Every Monday through January we’ll be posting an exclusive excerpt from Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, which analyzes eight of Springsteen’s most groundbreaking albums and then argues which one should be considered “the greatest.” This week, a selection from the chapter on The River:
The beauty of Springsteen’s approach with The River is the way it allowed him the canvass to juxtapose rambling rock ’n’ roll shout-outs with quieter studies of the human condition … and somehow make them work together toward an even greater whole.
Of course, even more jaunty songs like “Hungry Heart,” Springsteen’s first top-10 single, deal with real-life issues like isolation and abandonment, but several of The River’s tracks delve deeper and resonate more powerfully. The first of those, “Independence Day,” feels almost mournful as it kicks in to close the album’s otherwise raucous first side. A sort of mirror image of “Adam Raised a Cain,” its narrator half-sings with a tired resignation, offering a moving declaration of freedom from the darkness that can haunt fathers and sons.
It’s a similar darkness that can haunt husbands and wives as well, as we find out on the album’s classic, timeless title track. Based on Springsteen’s own sister, it’s the story of a teenage couple wed after an unplanned pregnancy – “no flowers, no wedding dress” – and the crushing fallout that follows.
The narrator’s desperation is underscored by Springsteen’s whining harmonica, and it eventually culminates in what may be Springsteen’s most disconsolate lyric: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” That line alone cements the album’s place in Springsteen’s canon.
You can download Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums at Amazon or Amazon UK. And if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry: You can download free Kindle software here.