Letter To You
2020 – Rock
Accompanied by E Street Band for the first time in six years, Springsteen and his new album, Letter To You, delivers timeless songs cautiously written, loaded with deep feelings and nostalgia. In other words, tracks that were already born canonically.
Time never seems to be the same for Bruce Springsteen and for us. Early in his career, when he was in his 20/30s, his lyrics, which were well written, cautious in feelings and experiences, seemed to have been made by someone much more experienced, an almost historical composer — with cleverly arranged words, he sang about death in Nebraska and criticized American society in “Born In The U.S.A.” Now, over 70 years old, Springsteen and his songs, which seemed to become even better and more accurate, carry the energy, the desire for freedom and the young man’s yearning for the future. In other words, when Bruce was young, he wrote as a 70-year-old man; now, he looks like a 20-year-old kid who still has his whole life in front of him.
However, it is not just this factor that proves that Bruce Springsteen is a timeless singer and songwriter. In addition to that and the fact that Springsteen does not appear to be 71 years old — which he completed recently — but rather a few decades younger, his songs seem to have a magical gift for guessing the future and referring to the past without being tiring. In one song from his 1984’s Born in The U.S.A., “Glory Days,” he sings, “I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it/But I probably will.” Almost 40 years after that, he, now an old man, meets with his longtime friends and, in only five days, writes songs about death, life, regret, past and uncertain future. As a result of that encounter, Letter To You, his twentieth album, appears as an epic film, which draws several lines between past, present and future; life and death; memories and wishes; friends, loves and family. He never sounded like that.
The lead single of the album, the title track, is the best example to explain Letter To You. With complex layers of guitars, drums, strings, vocals and pianos, “Letter To You,” arrives with Springsteen singing about a certain letter in which he put all his fears, feelings and memories. He sings, “Things I found out through hard times and good/I wrote ’em all out in ink and blood/Dug deep in my soul and signed my name true/And sent it in my letter to you.” Just like this track, it is the nostalgic feeling that moves the album, which carries both in its lyrics and in its instrumental, a feeling of longing that, at the same time, launches relieve us and trace aspects of sadness for something that will not return. It’s one of those things that you don’t really understand and can’t explain, just feel.
From the first seconds, Springsteen already hints that the album will be nothing like the others he made. According to him, much of the inspiration for Letter To You came after the death of George Theiss, one of the members of Springsteen’s first band, The Castiles. The opener, “One Minute You’re Here,” turns all eyes on Bruce’s vocals, which act in an emotional but controlled way over subtle instrumental. He sings that he is alone and completes, “One minutе you’re here/Nеxt minute you’re gone.” Several other tracks on the album also have turned their eyes to these overly complex feelings: loss of the people you love and the fact that you are one of the only living people of the group of friends from the past. In this sense, “Last Man Standing” and “Ghosts” appear as tracks that show Bruce dealing with these facts. While in the first he sings, “Out of school and out of work/Thrift-store jeans and flannel shirts/The lights go down as you face the crowd/The last man standing now,” in the second he declares, “I need, need you by my side/Your love and I’m alive.” It is essential to say that Springsteen’s writing here is sharp, vivid and detailed, very similar to his canonical classics.
However, along with the new songs that were written last year during the winter, there are three tracks that were written by Springsteen in the early 1970s, when he was auditioning to release his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.. Forming this set: “Janey Needs a Shooter,” “If I Was the Priest” and “Song for Orphans.” The first one, with missing guitar chords and layered vocals, tells the story of Janey, a young woman who is pretended by several men. Throughout his lyrical race, Bruce describes several types of men and stereotypes, but concludes that, “Janey needs a shooter now/A shooter like me on her side.” Meanwhile, the last one, with the most refined and elegant lyrics, talks about orphans, rebels and lost young people who find themselves with no life expectancy already in their youth, and, the second one, being the best on the album, mixes religion with politics and social problems. With stripped vocals, freer and stronger than ever, he draws the parallels in a genius way, “Now if Jesus was a sheriff and I were the priest/If my lady was an heiress and my Mama was a thief.” In addition to the precious writing and incredible vocals, the music has an incredible energy that young Bruce had, or better yet, still has.
Furthermore, there are some points throughout the Letter To You that are details that are spread over the songs that are responsible for, many times, making the songs so great. On several songs — mainly on “If I Was the Priest,” “Janey Needs a Shooter” and “Rainmaker” — Bruce’s vocals seem to sound strong, precise and free — you can say that his voice here takes on the meaning of “Born To Run” seriously. Besides that, being possible thanks to the production and instrumentation of the E Street Band, the album carries a very unique sound energy, from hallucinating and captivating saxophone solos — which, years ago, would be played by Clarence “Big Man” Clemons — to even an almost troubled and beautiful noise of a 1980s Rock orchestra. It already sounded like this, but at the same time, it has never been so original.
Of course, even with the many positive points, Letter To You still has some weak points. The romantic “Burnin’ Train,” for example, despite its chivalry rhythm and a very enjoyable hook, it ends up having a weak lyrics. Although “The Power of Prayer” and “House of a Thousand Guitars” complement each other — the first praises music as a kind of prayer that unites people and the second seems to paint images of a place after death that unites people they loved music (“Brother and sister, wherever you are/We’ll meet in the house of a thousand guitars”) — both end up sounding a bit like something generic and usual from a decade ago. Lastly, even though “Rainmaker” shows him going back to his roots, talking about politics and criticizing, what ends up standing out is the chorus that is captivating, memorable and entertaining, but that still reminiscent of some country generic stylistic from years ago. Of course, these songs are still above the average of other tracks released today, however, they end up not being as great as the others.
Finally, it is always difficult to complete a Bruce Springsteen’s album review. It’s something that leaves you speechless when you’ve analyzed several tracks and listed them and need to finish your text. While Nebraska left you confused for having opened a gap in your chest due to extreme sadness, Born In The U.S.A. left you with a feeling of wanting to live in the 80s, even knowing all the mistakes, and Born To Run channeled you an energy, making you want to run free. As already mentioned here, Letter To You can leave you confused because you don’t understand the nostalgia and all the feelings that Springsteen is telling, but even so, you feel it. On the last track, the almost serenade and acoustic “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” he sings, “For death is not the end/And I’ll see you in my dreams.” He seems to, after all, have understood the meaning of life, and we start to understand that no one was like Springsteen, no one is like Springsteen and no one will ever be like Springsteen.