Bruce Springsteen - Chapter & Verse
If you you were looking for the world’s most iconic musical artist there are a few you might think of, Madonna, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Neil Young and those are just the tip of the iceberg. None though is quite as iconic and as consistently relevant as Bruce Springsteen. There’s a reason he’s called The Boss. Where some artists have continued success through reinvention both musically and stylistically - Miss Ciccone and David Bowie being the most obvious - The Boss has stayed relevant by being himself and understanding the world we live in. He’s the blue collar boy that the whole world can relate to; the New Yorker that New Yorker’s turn to in their times of need; the showman of the four hours live shows; the all-American who wants a better America. An inspiration.
There’s a kind of serendipity that Springsteen has stayed so visible by being so dogged, so versatile. Even in his less commercial periods, say, the mid 90s, he was critically acclaimed. More than anything he’s stayed interesting, and interested. Released as a companion to his autobiography - it couldn’t have been called anything other than Born To Run - this companion album, a kind of greatest hits type of thing, is a rather perfect summary of a near 50 year career in just eighteen tracks. Chapter & Verse collects together five unreleased tracks that chart the teenage Springsteen, as part of The Castilles sounding very Beatles-y on ‘Baby I’ and very rockabilly Doors on ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’, through Steel Mill and the electric blues of ‘He’s Guilty (The Judge Song)’. By the time you hit the raucous woozy blues-y rock with The Bruce Springsteen Band you’re weigh down by the sense of how much he’s influenced by other bands of the time. That’s an easier assumption to make looking back decades later of course.
Then… then… the familiar Springsteen peeks through on ‘Henry Boy’ and ‘Growin’ Up’ (previously on Tracks), both acoustic demos, and both very close to his early official music. The rest of the tracklist is as near to the essence of The Boss as you can get to in thirteen songs. Both of the ‘Born’’s are here, the anthemic ‘Born To Run’, and the wildly misunderstood ‘Born In The USA’ (opening verse: “Born down in a dead man's town / The first kick I took was when I hit the ground / End up like a dog that's been beat too much / Till you spend half your life just covering up”) - not so complimentary. The difficult times are covered with ‘The River’ and ‘Brilliant Disguise’, the defiance of ‘Wrecking Ball’ is only amplified by the recent revelation of his wrestle with depression, and the jubilant hope from despair of ‘The Rising’.
In truth there’s not much here that hasn’t been released a million times before, and the unreleased stuff is more curio that essential. But this is the essence of The Boss and a celebration of his music and his life so far. Much like the man and his music, it is an excellent companion.