Album Review: Bruce Springsteen – Letter To You

On their latest release, Springsteen and his E Street Band take us on the emotional ride of our lives. 

“I love the emotional nature of Letter To You,” says Springsteen. “And I love the sound of the E Street Band playing completely live in the studio, in a way we’ve never done before, and with no overdubs. We made the album in only five days, and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I’ve ever had.”

And this incredible recording experience turns into one of the greatest listening experience for anyone who presses play on Letter To You. With nine new tracks, and new recordings of previously unreleased compositions Janey Needs A Shooter, If I Was The Priest and Song For Orphans, from the 1970’s, Springsteen brought on board Roy Bittan, Nils Lofgren, Patti Scialfa, Garry Tallent, Stevie Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, Charlie Giordano and Jake Clemons.

Marking the first E Street Band collaboration since 2016’s The River tour, Springsteen brings us the sound we missed so much and introduces us to some new facettes we have grown to love on Western Stars. 

And from the first few lines of One Minute You’re Here we are strapped in tight, and on that emotional rollercoaster. Across the record, and for the past few years, Springsteen has been contemplating his past, revisiting old ghosts and old tracks, and with the great blues rock metaphor of death in the shape of a big black train coming down the track, we once again see the songwriting icon battle his demons and share his most inner thoughts with his listeners. And no, it isn’t the corona blues that’s got Bruce down as the album was written pre-pandemic.

On his 20th album, and a career spanning almost 5 decades, it seems only natural that the man who’s always shared his finest stories with the world, is looking inward and reflecting. But ghosts and reflecting have always been part of Springsteen’s songwriting, however never quite as personal as on Letter To You. 

On the record’s first single and title track, we find the band at it’s most classic but also most reminding us of the grandeur on Western Stars, with its big piano and drums the love letter to his band has Springsteen wear his heart on his sleeve.

The key to truly understanding Letter To You and its importance to Springsteen’s career is understanding his struggles with depression ever since he was young. It’s not simply sadness or nostalgia, it’s quite literally Bruce battling his ghosts and demons in front of our ears. Not only is that incredibly brave but it shows how important the topic is to him to share. In recent years, through out his memoire and the Western Stars concert film, Springsteen has openly talked about his struggles. He continues this conversation on Letter To You, especially on tracks like Last Man Standing and I’ll See You In My Dreams. 

A lot of Letter To You  explores what happens to your loved ones after they die, because they might be gone, but are they actually? Throughout much of the recording process, Springsteen reminisces about times gone by and the people he lost. Last Man Standing references exactly that, Springsteen being the last member alive from his first band the Castilles. Having also lost E Street band mates along the way that still leave a gaping hole, it doesn’t come as a surprise that as the New Jersey native contemplates his own mortality he’s also reliving fond memories with friends past.

But alongside the seemingly dark clouds are bouts of hope and joy. The saxophone solo in Last Man Standing by Clarence Clemons nephew Jake tugs at the heartstrings in all the best ways. Similarly, House Of A Thousand Guitars is the most stunning trip down memory lane and a song that reminds you of the magic of music, especially live music. It’ll be one of those tracks that when the E Street Band and Springsteen hit the road again and we’re all allowed to sing and dance together at gigs again, we’ll all be crying happy tears and making more of those unforgettable memories that you can only make at a Springsteen show.

So wake and shake off your troubles my friend
We’ll go where the music never ends
From the stadiums to the small town bars
We’ll light up the house of a thousand guitars
House of a thousand guitars, house of a thousand guitars
Brother and sister wherever you are
We’ll rise together till we fire the spark
That’ll light up the house of a thousand guitars

Soothing many broken souls that have been hit by this pandemic either in the live music industry by losing their jobs, or the die-hard gig goers that haven’t felt that undescribable high in way too long, House Of A Thousand Guitars hits a sweet spot, it probably didn’t know it would when it was first written.

On Ghosts we once again revisit old friends of Springsteen’s past but laced with a positivity that is based on the believe that when we’re gone, we’re never really gone, our spirits stick around with those who are still alive, to relive the good old times and to keep the bond that was created in the flesh.

Closing things off with I’ll See You In My Dreams is so fitting. A positive outlook after much reflection, that says not goodbye but see you soon, that cherishes the memories made. The more upbeat piano and raging guitar solos breathe a new hope back into the listener as Letter To You comes to a close. As if to say – life is good, it’s short but look at all the memories we made.

With the album having been recorded live in the studio, it’s even more exciting and clear to see what these songs will sound like live on stage when god willing we’ll be back in big stadiums lying in each others arms. Throughout all of Letter To You we get closer to Springsteen than we ever have before, sharing so much about his friends and bandmates, we feel grateful to get to be part of that world-dominating history that even after 50 years is still so underrated in its ingenuity and genuiness.

And even after 50 years, Springsteen refuses to deliver the same old melodies and same old style, whilst never pushing too far out as to lose who he is. It’s album number 20, and he doesn’t have to give us new things to discover, new stories to tell, but he does and for that we will forever be grateful.

One thing that’s for sure is that once again Bruce Springsteen has given us a record to fall in love with, to share with our friends and families, to pass down from generation to generation as it will fast become a solid favorite in record collections across the world. It may only be rock ‘n’ roll but it sure as hell feels a lot like love, and boy do we need that right now more than ever.