Bruce Springsteen has been sad before. In 1978 he howled his way through the inner struggle that rested somewhere in the bleak and unforgiving ‘Darkness On The Edge of Town’. In 1980 he glumly recounted stories of teenage pregnancy and debilitating unemployment in ‘The River’ and in 1982 he ventured to ‘Nebraska’ to talk about men destined for the electric chair and criminals on the run, while on that album’s masterpiece – the powerfully miserable ‘Atlantic City’ – a smidgen of hope prevailed through one of finest lyrics of the 1980s: “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact / But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.”
It’s a message that Springsteen returns to almost 40 years later on the meditative ‘Letter To You’, his triumphant 20th album. The question now, though, as Springsteen hits his 70s and watches good friends and family members pass away, is: do they actually? Where he once sang of the mortality of fictional characters, it’s now that much closer to home. That he seems a touch overwhelmed is no surprise.
Every song is a dream. ‘Janey Needs A Shooter’ is a happy return to the kind of fictional character that peppered his earlier material and full of melodic moments that chime with songs Springsteen would release later in his career. The rolling, theatrical ‘If I Was The Priest’ too is packed full of outlaws, bad boys and a “sweet Virgin Mary” dishing out whiskey at the “Holy Grail Saloon”, who wouldn’t have felt out of place propping up a bar on 1975’s ‘Born To Run’. ‘Song For Orphans’, meanwhile, depicts “cheerleader tramps… high society vamps, ex-heavyweight champs” running loose through a ragged Americana landscape of broken dreams and faded glory.
A powerful synthesis of past and present, Letter To You shows us the strength that can be found in sorrow. The result is Springsteen’s finest album since 2002’s The Rising.
Read the full review at NME