Ah, here we are with my long, long delayed second entry in this "weekly" series.
God, I am a slacker.
As in previous entries, we'll look a specific Springsteen album, in this case The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, originally released September 11, 1973. An album that also happens to be my favorite in the Springsteen catalog.
It was with this album that Bruce really started to get the idea of what his music was, and how to best present it. It wasn't quite all the way there. This isn't the pointed statement of purpose that Born to Run turned out to be. The myriad influences of the Jersey shore and his own life are bubbling at all times on this disk.
We start with "The E-Street Shuffle," which is clearly reminiscent of Greetings From Asbury Park. Really, the whole album feels cut from the same cloth as the first record, production is again by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, but with a greater sense of what the band could do and accomplish. I really don't think "New York City Serenade" would exist if Bruce wasn't as fully comfortable with David Sancious' piano.
The E-Street Band, as it was then (which still wasn't the Born to Run era "classic" line-up), really comes into it's own here. I think it's no coincidence that this is the record that bears the band's name within the title. Certainly, I think Bruce found the power of the piano here, which may be why so much of Born to Run was written on the keys, not guitar.
On the songwriting level, the album is a treasure trove, with 3 certified classics, "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Incident on 57th Street," and "Rosalita (Come Out tonight)." Add to this a jazzy turn, "Kitty's Back," and a tune oozing with boardwalk swagger, "The E-Street Shuffle." Plus, two left-turn tracks that ramble and showcase Springsteen the storyteller in all his glory, "Wild Billy's Circus Story" and "New York City Serenade." This is, literally, an album I cannot stop listening to once I've started. The construction of each song is so compelling.
What I really think sets this disk off from the rest of the catalog, for me, personally, is that there's a depth of feeling to it. Greetings was a kid trying to prove himself, from Born to Run on he had a mission and a message that he needed to get out. The later albums all had very specific and pointed targets.
The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle feels like a day at the Jersey Shore, and all the things you might see passing by, or feel as you made your way into the night. Springsteen has always been honest, even in his most aggressively iconic periods, but this feels like the end of his time as a simple chronicler of the events around him. In the future he would find meaning in the stories he saw around him, but at this point, he was content to just tell the tales.
When our narrator calls out to Rosalita, he's simply concerned with being with the girl he loves. On Born to Run, when our guy coaxes Mary and her waving dress off the porch during "Thunder Road," there's a full and undeniable sense that it was about more than two people, more than a porch, it was all of us. Both are compelling, true and full of honesty, but there's something really compelling to me about the kid doing something that he never really see's the grandness of. The kids on E-Street Shuffle haven't realized just yet what's coming. Springsteen hasn't realized it yet.
It's the simplicity that I think works for me so much. It's Springsteen's last statement of, well...innocence, before his rise to larger things.