Even after four and a half decades, there’s still something oddly lovable about The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. I guess it’s the fact that it really tries to be something we all want it to be. Ultimately though, like anything that tries too hard, it fails to reach the goals it has set itself. That’s not a problem though, because it tries so damn hard that you’re always willing to give The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle another chance.
Bruce Springsteen’s second album finds he and his band reaching for something beyond their collective grasp and Springsteen himself doing all he can to extend his reach lyrically, musically, and as a performer. It almost works too, but if life teaches us anything, it’s that the secret to quiet contentment is to have small and manageable ambitions. Obviously nobody said this to Springsteen while he was penning The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, as he attempts to cram in no less than seven mini-epics in an effort to impress those he feels he needs to impress. It’s not that it isn’t obvious that Springsteen and the newly named E Street Band have the talent to become the world-conquering act they would later become, it’s just that they don’t need to try so hard and perhaps should just take their time to mature into the band they obviously had the potential to become.
Of all the early Bruce Springsteen studio albums, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is arguably the one that contains the fewest great tunes, but it still possesses much of the charming naivety of his debut, and perhaps Springsteen was just in need of a few calming words in his ear in order to gather himself together enough to make a concerted effort to become the kind of rock star he should be, rather than what he thought he should be. With it’s enthusiastic but sometimes clumsy mash up of rock and roll, tin pan alley indebted pop, and over-technical musicianship which borders too close to jazz for comfort, it’s obvious that Springsteen or someone close to him needed to master the art of self-control. Thing is, The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle just wouldn’t be as lovable if it didn’t try so hard, and with their next album, Springsteen and the E Street Band would knock it out of the park.