Letter to You
Rage Against the Dying of The Light.
Having had the good fortune to see Springsteen’s Broadway show back in 2018, the Boss seemed to be – a bit like Bowie – making sure that his career was placed in a context that he himself had control over – and making sure that there was no unfinished business and no regrets.
There’s a similar feeling on “Letter to You.”
Whereas “Springsteen on Broadway” was one man’s perspective, this time, it’s the gang – The Boss, the E-Street Band and their relationship with their “Springnut” fans – making sure that what they leave behind and are remembered by, is something that they’re proud of.
In that sense this is a celebratory release, but there are intimations of mortality throughout.
Opener “One Minute You’re Here” is a quiet, almost transitional piece, following on from “Western Stars;” with its orchestral, intimate production – the opening line:
“Big black train coming down the track” shortly followed by ”one minute you’re here / Next minute you’re gone”
is a recognition of the short time we have on this planet – and is the manifesto for what follows as well as what came before.
The title track “Letter to You” which follows, is a confessional expression of Springsteen’s cathartic, poetic need to follow his own path – and it’s all framed in a triumphant E-Street Band production too.
No wonder this was released as the first album teaser – it’s quintessential Springsteen and contains the grandly staged emotions of his best ever work. “Burning Train” extends the journey metaphor, but this time, it’s the tale of being caught up in the fire of a relationship; and not surprisingly it’s a pounding rocker.
“Janey Needs a Shooter” has been known to Springsteen fans for a while, coming from the time around the “Born to Run” sessions – it’s another relationship song about finding the right type of person – here the heroine is looking for a man “who knows her style”, couched in a typical Springsteen character narrative, with Roy Bittan’s piano and Charlie Giordano’s organ playing featuring prominently.
“Last Man Standing” is another mid-tempo narrative that uses Spectoresque dynamics to recount Springsteen’s early days in the Castilles – and contrasted against the fact that he’s “The last man standing now” – it’s a touchingly wistful defiant celebration of youth in the face of the impending future.
This celebration is moved into the area of personal relationships in “The Power of Prayer,” where there’s thankfulness for the small magical personal loving moments that make a life, bookmarked by exquisite Roy Bittan piano and joyous sax from Jake Clemons.
Personal celebration is followed by a musical group hug in the form of “House of a Thousand Guitars” where not even “The criminal clown (who) has stolen the throne” can “Steal what he can never own” – and that’s the soul of people united by the transformational experience of music.
The political barb at Trump in this song is drawn out and developed in “Rainmaker” which offers explanation for those who vote for “Rainmakers” – charlatans – because they’re troubled people who “need to believe in something so bad / They’ll hire a rainmaker”.
It’s a balanced non-judgmental observation which avoids being didactic and is a clever musically hooky way of getting under the skin of those who don’t want to admit they were conned…..“If I Was the Priest” claims though “there’s just too many bad boys trying to work the same line” – it’s early Springsteen in style, filled with oddball characters and biblical imagery and it’s a scary world where you can’t please all the people all the time -but that’s life.
“Ghosts”, another pre-release track, sits well with the sentiments of “Last Man Standing” and “House of a Thousand Guitars” in that Bruce draws inspiration and communion with those in his musical tradition – and it’s what makes him exclaim that “I’m Alive” when he hears those that came before – and he hopes to offer the same to those that follow.
“Song for Orphans” first performed live back in 2005, is Dylan-like in style and in delivery too and the fact that it’s Springsteen reaching out to the outsiders in society, it fits in with the personal and communal addressing of his – (our?) – people.
Album closer “I’ll See You in My Dreams” completes the bitter-sweet tone of the whole album – of celebrating the life we have, but preparing for the inevitable. That gets more into our thoughts, the more times around the sun we manage to hang on – but reassuringly “death is not the end.”
Recorded over only four or five days, this is a fresh sounding yet realistic view from Bruce’s point on his journey.
The ‘elephant in the room’ is whether this is the last ever album with the E Street band – who knows?
But if that were the case, this is a mature and fitting summation of what it’s meant to be part of that ride.
Review by Nick Barber
Released October 23rd 2020