Monday, September 18, 2006

Review #4: Born To Run 30th Anniversary Edition

Anyone who is familiar with basic rock history sure is not going to be able to avoid Bruce Springsteen. On classic rock radio stations (as if anyone listens to them anymore) you sure will be able to hear at least one song by The Boss. Most likely, that song will be 'Born To Run'. Born To Run was Springsteen's first breakthrough album, after two excellent albums that were both commercially ignored. So, this was clearly a do-or-die situation for him and, he won. So much has already been said about it, it certainly won't hurt to read a little more...

There are so many albums out there that, simply, just defy words. Blonde on Blonde, Band on the Run, Imagine, Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper's, Abbey Road...the list goes on (and could, but I can't think of anymore right now) and Born to Run is one of them.
The album opens up like an epic Western movie...the high pitched harmonica over a simple piano and with the first line, you realize we aren't in the west, but we're in urban America. "The screen door slams..." this an album? This is more than just music, it's a story that's being told. This is an album in two parts. Part one opens with the great Thunder Road and closes with Backstreets and Part two goes from Born to Run to Jungleland. The songs are more like pieces of a series of paintings...each represents something unique, but all have something in common. "It's about getting away...trying to escape," Springsteen says in the 'Making of...' DVD.
Each song is also memorable. From the hard driven saxophone in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out ("I don't know where that came from!" says Springsteen) to the traumatic pulse of the piano in Meeting Across The River all the way up to Clarence Clemons's no-word-to-describe-it sax solo in 'Jungleland' that ultimately acts as the album's climax. For the album to give it's full power, you have to listen to it from beginning to's like watching a movie and stopping it.
Besides the album, the box set includes two other discs.
The concert film is amazing. Springsteen is lively and jumping all over the place. You can just feel the energy that all the members of the E Street Band had in the concert. The camera shots work well and allow you to feel as if you are on the backstage. Personally, my favorite part was the opening. Springsteen, accompanied only by his harmonica and Roy Bittan's piano, quietly sings 'Thunder Road'. if that's not enough, after the show, he does a two-song encore. I'll try to let you imagine this scene. He comes on by himself and runs to the dormant piano. Then, a blue light closes in on his face and he starts to sing. The audience can't recognize the song because it's such a different arrangement. "...and I did it for YOU! For you...for you..." He squints and moves his head back and forth as if the piano is an acoustic guitar. It does not get any better than this. If For You was presented in this way on Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. it would still have been as great as it is. Then, the rest of the band comes on for a spirited version of 'Quarter to Three' and you can see it in his face. He doesn't want to get off stage! He's smiling and revving everyone on the stage up. Max Weinberg's hand is about to fall off, but he doesn't care...Clemons's lung could pop out of the sax, but who cares?!?
The second disc is called Wings For Wheels: The Making of Born to Run. The documentary is really well done. It includes great interviews with Bruce. It shows him driving around Asbury Park, where he shows you his old house. Then, you see him in a studio hanging out with Jon Landau where the two go over the different tracks. There's several really good videos of Springsteen in the studio where he directs Clemons on how to play 'Jungleland''s climactic solo. The members of the E Street Band get to give their words and thoughts on the album. It's a really nifty rockumentary.
Finally, there's the packaging. Each disc is in a mini-vinyl sleeve and Born To Run is packaged in a replica of the original sleeve (unfortunately, this means that the lyrics are way too small and you really need a magnifying glass to see them). The hard cover box is really nifty, with an edited cover making up for the front and back. On the inside cover is a photo of Springsteen reading. The included book has a little two-page intro from Springsteen and hundreds of unreleased live and in-studio shots. These are really great candid shots, but it would have been nice if they included an essay or the lyrics printed in the book. Also, the album is a black plastic CD, so it is a complete replica. It even shows four bands on the top!
If you don't have this album, or already do, you need this. Not only for the spectacular sound, but for the concert film and the documentary. The concert is worth the price of the whole thing by itself. A must buy for any music fan.

Album: *****
DVDs: *****
Packaging: ****
OVERALL: *****

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