Pick of the Week: Bruce Springsteen “Letter to You”

Letter to You Bruce Springsteen

Graphics by Maeve Hunter

Pick of the Week: A Closer Look at Letter to You

By Riley Greenstein, Web Services Coordinator

The Boss is back! Bruce Springsteen just released his twentieth studio album Letter to You. He's reunited with the E Street Band for the first time since 2014 to deliver the classic Springsteen experience made wiser with age. The songs were written after an extended writer's block and focus on his own aging and mortality. Let's dig into it, track by track!


The album starts off on a softer note with a tribute to Springsteen's former bandmates, a theme he'll return to throughout the record. The acoustic guitar over a lush backing orchestra is very reminiscent of his 2019 album Western Stars, and it does a good job of introducing the listener to the new album's themes.


"One Minute You're Here" might have been the first track, but the album really kicks into gear when the E Street Band comes roaring in on the first single. You can really feel the energy of the roaring guitars and driving drums like a foot slamming on the gas pedal. Bruce himself wears his heart on his sleeve in the lyrics, and his voice cuts right to your heartstrings.


Letter to You was recorded live by the E Street Band over the course of five days, and that energy comes through especially well here. The guitar solo is especially strong atop the pulsing drums.


Most of Letter to You was written in 2019, but there are a few songs like "Janey Needs a Shooter" which were originally written for Springsteen's 1973 debut album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. His classic blues-adjacent rock sounds wiser after decades of experience, but the Boss still knows how to have a good time. He and his band just blast away for the last two minutes, and you can hear the smiles on everyone's faces.


Bruce looks back over his 71 years  as he sings about the death of George Theiss, a member of his former band The Castiles. He takes us through his memories playing as a teenager with the pain of loss in his voice. But the colorful saxophone solo makes "Last Man Standing" sound triumphant, bringing us right back to his Union Hall days.


"The Power of Prayer" reminds me most of "The Promised Land" from 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town. It centers around Springsteen's spiritual connection with music. He says that music is like prayer, and when the band jams away at the end, I'm inclined to believe him.


The song starts with Springsteen singing alone over a beautiful piano, almost crooning about his sense of community gained through music before the full band comes in to fill the mix. The album is in many ways about music itself, and the chemistry between everyone in the E Street Band only helps reinforce the message.


The soaring guitars and crying saxophone of the chorus would make you believe that this was a triumphant tale, but the lyrics tell a different story. "Rainmaker" is about a conman taking advantage of farmers hurt by a drought. Most of this record is timeless, but with the album's being release so close to the 2020 election, it's hard not to see parallels with the current occupant of Oval Office and a message very much directed to the present.


Another song from the early 70s, Springsteen leans into the more country side of his influences. He contrasts Catholicism with Old West imagery, two themes that longtime fans of the Boss will know well. 


The second single off Letter to You is about being haunted by the memories of his dead bandmates, but the tone is anything but somber. Bruce brings his friends back to life with a pounding rhythm section and bright growling guitars. It's a career retrospective for a musician with many years behind him. He sounds just as alive as he did back when he started.


There's plenty of soul to go around in the penultimate track, the final song on the album written for Asbury Park. You can definitely tell it was written by a much younger Bruce, one with wide eyes ready to take on the world before him. It's a love letter to rock and roll and the scene that took in rebel outcasts like himself. 2020 Bruce gives the song a level of pomp and celebration that would have been lost on his younger self.


After the grand party of "Songs for Orphans," the album ends on a lowkey note, but a glorious end all the same. The E Street Band are driving along the sonic highway with this one. It plays like the end credits that Letter to You deserves. You can tell that this was made by a group of seasoned veterans who still know how to have fun. It's a sign that at 71 years old, the Boss isn't going anywhere.

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