CHAPTER AND VERSE by Bruce Springsteen
Genre: Heartland Rock
Favorite Tracks: “The Ballad of Jesse James,” “Born to Run,” “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” “Wrecking Ball”
Bruce Springsteen has cemented his exalted status as a legend through a mellifluous chronicle called CHAPTER AND VERSE. Springsteen’s illustrious career, from teenage tramp to American icon, is documented through handpicked tracks potent with nostalgia and gripping sentimentality that may bring tears to longtime fans. Those epochal memories of blasting “Born to Run” with the car windows down will be welcomed back with that same brassy patriotism and rich, dulcet emotion as when Bruce first entered their lives.
CHAPTER AND VERSE is a gift from the Boss himself. Acting as an euphonious companion to his autobiography BORN TO RUN, this is not a greatest hits album. Gone are the allegories of American middle class song characters; this is Bruce’s story. Entering some kind of archival period in his vocation, Springsteen is aware that he is closer to the end than the beginning of his career. CHAPTER AND VERSE is less focused on choosing hits for hits’ sake, but rather for the critical eye to chart his artistic progression and personal development through each era. This is intriguing, because in doing so, Columbia has accidently made the best Bruce Springsteen compilation there is. This album avoids becoming both Hits That Aren’t Great and Deep Cuts Only Fans Would Care About. Springsteen has always been a great custodian of his own work, and he’s selected tracks that are inarguably interesting for the era they’re meant to cover.
The first five tracks are the most revelatory to long-time listeners. Previously unreleased from a pre-E Street group, these songs outline The Boss’s influences, although his seminal songwriting never strays from the personal and working class topics. The album opens with the primitive “Baby I,” where a scuffed-shoed, teenage Bruce sings about sleeping on the beach all night. One can detect Pete Townshend’s influence in “You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover.” Springsteen tries out country in “He’s Guilty,” recorded with his early band, Steel Mill. The paradigm of Bruce Springsteen’s genius doesn’t reveal itself until the preeminent anthem “The Ballad of Jesse James.” Featuring some members of the E street band, Springsteen’s distinguished songwriting is unabashedly fashioned in the chorus: “Don’t you want to be an outlaw, children?”
For new listeners, the unmitigatedly supreme “Born to Run,” “Sandy,” and “Wrecking Ball” form a simultaneous aesthetic and thematic continuity while showing his shifting production and performance concepts, underscoring why he’s one of the most important American songwriters of the tail end of the 20th century. Consummate track “The River” has the power to make new listeners pull their cars over, while celebrated “Born in the USA” will be introduced as an ardent anthem for the new generation. “Living Proof” and “Long Timing Coming” are autobiographical songs to revisit: These are the songs that changed Bruce Springsteen’s life.
Bruce Springsteen transcends the realm of listening.There is something so otherworldly, emotional, and fervently personal about Springsteen’s music. These are songs that mark a person’s life, songs that guide one through thunderous roads and champion poignant moments with a near-spiritual connection. CHAPTER AND VERSE seems to be an overall frame through which to view Springsteen’s gilt-edged career, and a tidy bookend to Columbia’s zealous box set releasing endeavours. However, foreboding heaviness comes with this record: Is this the end of Springsteen’s songwriting career? A remarkable journey with a neatly marked denouement of “hard times come, hard times go?” There is no definite answer, but there’s little reason to be forlorn. Springsteen is touring well through February, and the story of the fabled New Jersey kid who became a lamented songwriter is not yet over. As Springsteen would say, “have a little faith, there’s magic in the night.” For those who don’t know the Boss, CHAPTER AND VERSE is a great primer, and for those who do, it’s a magnificent refresher and a great story to chart.