I took the scenic route to being a Bruce Springsteen fan. Perhaps bizarrely I started with his critically acclaimed Tunnel of Love, before back tracking to the stadium-conquering Born in the USA. Losing interest for a while, it wasn’t until one of my closest friends started dating a Springsteen obsessive that my interest was sparked again and I invested in the fantastic Essential Bruce Springsteen compilation, before exploring his critically acclaimed work from the mid to late 70s and spending far longer than was necessary to understand the appeal of Born to Run (an album I now view to be the peak of his achievements). For the past ten years my appreciation for The Boss’s work has remained unabated, so why has it taken me until now to investigate Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.?
Perhaps my reticence is down to the fact that I’ve always believed that Springsteen was better when backed by the E Street Band. Although his run of albums from the late 80s and through the 90s was fine, I feel the E Street Band always pushed The Boss to the next level. The band that back him on his debut are evidently a capable combo, and a couple of members of the E Street Band are already present, but it lacks the flair that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band would achieve on later albums.
Stylistically Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. isn’t a million miles away from the rock and roll singer songwriter with a whiff of jazz sound of The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, but it’s obvious that Springsteen was still finding his way as an artist. Always a fan of densely narrative verses, there are plenty of wordy songs on his debut where he evidently struggles with restraint, and he seemingly finds himself slightly bogged down without enough experience to know when enough is enough.
The odd misfire aside, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J is an album that oozes enthusiasm and potential. Even on his debut there is a sense of destiny about Springsteen, of the vast aquifer of talent that he had only recently discovered and had yet to fully explore the depths of. It is only the knowledge of what Springsteen would later achieve that diminishes Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. as it’s a solid collection of songs from a young songwriter who was determined to make the most of what could have been his one shot at brilliance.
Of the nine lyric-heavy tracks that make up Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., three in particular stand among the best material he ever wrote and remain personal favourites of mine, and oddly enough all of them were covered at some point by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Album opener “Blinded by the Light” may have been re-imagined as a hit single by the Earth Band, but Springsteen’s original version is riddled with an infectious charm and youthful enthusiasm. “For You” also revels in a celebratory tone, regardless of the often dark lyrical imagery, and is attacked by the band with a palpable sense of confidence. “Spirits in the Night” is a saxophone laden tune which flirts with doo wop, and is one of the albums more singalong tunes. “Spirits in the Night” is also a vital part of Springsteen’s musical history, as it’s the first obvious indication of how much The Boss would rely on his working relationship with sax player Clarence Clemons to make the E Street Band the enormous success it would become.
Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is a strong debut, but one that sometimes struggles to achieve the sense of zest that Springsteen would later achieve with the E Street Band. It was a fine opening creative statement though, and one which is well worth investigating by anyone with even a passing interest in The Boss.