Bruce Springsteen’s career was launched amid much hype about the ‘new Dylan’ and ‘the future of rock’n’roll’. That he was able to overcome the scepticism this generated was due to the fact that, when everybody had calmed down, there was actually more than a modicum of truth to both claims.
His first couple of albums included some fine songs and he was already undeniably a stupendous live performer. But it was 1975’s Born To Run that finally presented the material to match the hype, establishing both the heroic conviction and the abiding symbols that characterised his work – the highway, the girl and the guitar. It was the American Dream reinvented for the Vietnam generation, still full of hope for deliverance, but angry, too, that the ‘tramps like us’ had been betrayed.
He peopled his widescreen, heartland rock with a cast of characters struggling against despair and clinging on to fragile dreams, giving authentic voice to small-town America a world removed from New York sophistication and Californian hedonism. The acoustic Nebraska (1982) was a brilliant change of pace. But like all truly great artists, by now almost every album was radically different. His most low-key effort was followed with the resilient but often-misunderstood Born In The USA (1984). Then he showed he could also get up-lose-and-personal on Tunnel of Love (1987).
The ’90s brought just three studio albums – and two of those were released on the same day. But by now he was not so much The Boss as the alternative voice of America, and after 9/11 his was the response everyone wanted to hear. The result was The Rising (2002), on which he intuitively got the tone just right. The failure of his strenuous efforts to stop Bush in the 2004 election raised questions he has yet to answer and we await his next move with fascination.