Further Review : Bruce Springsteen "Born in the USA"

New column!

In addition to the The Archives, which takes a look back at records that never received their proper due, I would like to introduce Further Review, a new feature or something that will highlight records that were somehow misjudged at the outset. These records were, on a personal level, either praised too highly or, well, the opposite. And to kick things off, Bruce Springsteen's 1984 pop masterstroke Born in the USA.

In the past, whenever the Springsteen conversation came up with an interested Bruce novice, I would always avoid Bruce's massive mainstream breakthrough. With seven top ten hits, I'd always considered USA a good pop record, but when surveying the Bruce catalog, there was little need to mention what was considered his one full-on leap into, dare I say, "cookie cutter" territory. I mean, I couldn't put this record in the same world as Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born To Run, Nebraska or The Wild, the Innocent, the E Street Shuffle. Hell, I'd even mention the grossly underrated Lucky Town before heading down bandanna way. But in the words of Nick Drake, "time has told me, you're a rare, rare find."

Despite the hoopla surrounding the record and a title track which may go down as the most misunderstood hit of all-time, as time has passed (25 years!), Born in the USA stands as one of the greatest, if not the greatest pop-rock record ever released. And unlike many of the ass pop records of the 80s, this collection is absolutely full of substance. Despite being high in spirit, it's a record that lyrically continues to highlight the hometown struggles that Springsteen quietly revealed on the stark yet stunning Nebraska. These struggles were as omnipresent during the Reagan years as they are in the years of Bush and Obama. They're everywhere yet hidden. Yet here they are in song. "I had a job, I had a girl, I'd something going mister in this world. I got laid off down at the lumberyard, our love went bad, times got hard" if not coated in pop gloss, could've been culled from a Woody Guthrie record. And this is the entire record. It's a record for the everyman, in times of struggle that cross over decades and generations.

A few weeks ago I returned to New Jersey to see Springsteen and the E Street Band close out Giants Stadium. A few days prior to the shows, while driving down Route 17 in New Jersey, the disc jockey broke the news that the band would be performing one of Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town or Born in the USA at each of the final dates. I basically jumped the highway barrier and floored it home to check which record I'd witness. I've often cited Darkness on the Edge of Town as my favorite record of all-time (or Buckner's Devotion and Doubt, depending on my state of mind) so my initial hope was Darkness. When I checked the dates, my ticket matched up with USA. Initially a bit dejected, I tossed on the record for the first time in a year or so and was immediately transported to that spirit. "I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover's bed, with a wide open country in my eyes, and these romantic dreams in my head" Bruce howls on "No Surrender." Now 25 years later, with a more mature mind, but an even deeper idealism, those words hit home perfectly. And a few days later, the magic that is Born in the USA captivated me just as it had in 1985.