The Boss looks inward on his brilliant and vulnerable new record
Kelsey Barnes
10:27 19th October 2020

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For such a prolific songwriter with a nearly fifty-year career, one might think Bruce Springsteen would have nothing new to say. For The Boss and his latest studio album—the brilliant and vulnerable Letters To You—it’s not about having anything new to say, but seeing things from a new perspective. Springsteen has been known to pen songs about the working-class, his disillusionment towards politics, and his feelings of patriotism, but in Letters To You Springsteen looks inward at something he’s never had to think about before: his mortality.

The 12-track album opens and closes with tracks that are on two ends of one coin—‘One Minute You’re Here’ and ‘I’ll See You In My Dreams'. The former is a sombre, subdued song that sets up the entire album with lyrics that show Springsteen toying with the idea of his legacy (“I thought I knew just who I was/And what I’d do but I was wrong/One minute you’re here/Next minute you’re gone”), while the latter is a sky-reaching ode of acceptance of his death and what it brings (“We’ll meet and live and laugh again/I’ll see you in my dreams/For death is not the end”).

The tour-de-force of the album is ‘Ghosts,’ a confessional and guitar-heavy track that has a booming Springsteen singing “Still set on 10 to burn this house down/Count the band in then kick into overdrive/By the end of the set we leave no one alive,” both celebrating the decades-long partnership between him and the E Street Band and how they plan to be rocking until their last breath. In the same vein, on the title track ‘Letter To You’ and ‘Burnin’ Train’ listeners are reminded of the magic Springsteen and the E Street Band create; sublime rock songs that are as vulnerable and honest as they are roaring.

As the album unfolds, there is nothing entirely new about the sound or production; it’s a classic Springsteen record one should expect, but the songwriting is more self-reflective than ever. ‘Song for Orphans’ and ‘If I Was The Priest’ bring up Springsteen’s faith in people and the power of community, while the nostalgia-induced ‘Last Man Standing’ has Springsteen flipping the script and choosing to look back on his career as a rockstar. Even on his most personal album to date, Springsteen can’t help himself from supplying commentary to the current political landscape with ‘Rainmaker’ and ‘House of a Thousand Guitars,’ two pleasantly melodic tracks about bad men preying on the vulnerable that are just begging to be cathartically scream-sung in stadiums across the world. 

Although an album with an overarching theme of mortality might not sound like the best thing to listen to this year, Springsteen writes in such a way as to make you feel as if you are on this journey with him. Some lyrics teeter on the verge of cliché but as a whole, the album is an authentic collection of songs that minimizes any emotional distance between Springsteen and his listeners. In a world where it feels like rock stars can never die, Springsteen places himself at the forefront and forces himself to stare death in the eye and confront it, and he asks his fans to think about it, too.

Letters To You is a typical Springsteen album in the sense that it contains the same call-to-arms rock tracks that any listener would come to expect on an album from The Boss but this collection carries a greater weight. They represent how Springsteen knows he won’t be here forever, but he’s hoping the community he’s created through music will keep him going until the very end.

Letter To You arrives 23 October.

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