reviewed by Jill Hill

Published in Issue No. 20 ~ January, 1999

I know many rabid Boss fans. And I suppose there is no way to avoid pissing someone off when writing about Bruce Springsteen. Tracks will delight most fans, but I doubt if it will make the Boss many new ones. That is not a bad thing. In a literary analogy, the Boss is to Cormac McCarthy as Mariah Carey is to Danielle Steele. So with that quasi-introduction, I’ll do my best with a singer-songwriter who has become an American Icon.

The quirky physical layout of the box, done in sepia tones without any plastic, mirrors the seriousness that Springsteen brings to his music. The photos come from different stages of his career. One photo shows him in front of a mike, dressed in grubby jeans and an over-washed sweatshirt, with his eyes closed. On his face is an expression of ecstasy comparable to Saint Teresa. At his best, this is what Springsteen gives the listener.

I was never a fan of the Born in the USA era. I became a fan with Tunnel of Love and then moved back to his earlier work. Hard driving rock anthems of blue collar life never held as much fascination as The River, Walk Like a Man, Spirits in the Night. On Tracks Springsteen throws in everything that didn’t make the other albums – risky business since for every diamond there can be a lump of coal. The Boss brushes that aside with a brief statement: As a result, my albums became a series of choices – what to include, what to leave out.

Tracks is a mixed bag of tricks. Disc 1, recorded between 1972 and 1977 includes “Mary Queen of Arkansas,” “It’s Hard to be a Saint in the City” and “Grown’ Up.” Some songs are recorded live, and others recorded at the studio and never released. The stand-outs on Disc 1 have to be “Seaside Bar Song,” “Bishop Danced” and “Iceman.” “Bishop Danced,” with its lyrical free association, was recorded live at Kansas City 2/19/73:

Well maverick daddy got a one-eyed bride
She glides like monkey-mule kicking on the back slide
Over hill, over hill, daddy don’t you spill now
Papa got switch, he’s pumping little Bill
Papa got switch, he’s pumping little Bill
And Billy’s he’s crying “Tomahawk, tomahawk, daddy better duck now. The Mohawks, the Mohawks, they’re still out there in the woods.

“Seaside Bar Song” is a hard-driving bar song, which the critics of the Boss love. The song includes cars, babes, and the freedom of the highway. “Iceman” is also about cars and highways and babes, but it strikes the emotional center of escapism: Once they tried to steal my heart, beat it right outta my head/but baby they didn’t know that I was born dead.

Chronologically arranged, the tracks mark the development of the Boss, the E Street Band, the break-up of the band, and the solo work done by Springsteen. Disc 2 takes it from 1977 up to 1983 and is highlighted by a toned-down version of Born in the USA – less yelling, less guitar, less of everything but the Boss. The lyrics of Springsteen’s works have always been muscular and hard, but they often hold a clear, sympathetic understanding of human nature.

It is difficult to be an aging rock star, a butt-shaking oldster. In Tracks, Springsteen moves toward what feels like his natural inclination. His passion is not only in the hard-driving beat of the E Street Band and in the Boss yelling out the words of his song; it’s also found in the lyrics and in the tender rendition the Boss gives “Sad Eyes”:

Here you come all dressed up for a date
Well one more step and it’ll be too late
Blue blue ribbon in your hair
Like you’re so sure I’ll be standing here.

The Boss is also sure his fans will be here. Tracks is decently self-indulgent rather than indecently so. It showcases songs that didn’t make the first cut but are among Springsteen’s favorites. Tracks may not generate the sales or have the critical success of his other work, but it does provide intimate insight into the Boss over a span of years, and that is enough.

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Jill Hill lives with some kids, some dogs, writes, and manages a restaurant where she tries out her new CD's. She listens to a variety of music, from Classical to Blues, but tries to stay away from most rap. In her words: "I am always on the look out for a new band or singer/songwriter that I will like. I like a CD that does not grow old and weary sounding, which mean I don't want buy a CD that can be found on the used CD sale table a month later. One of my favorite CD's is Neal Young's Everyone Knows this is Nowhere. My favorite writer is Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and my favorite novel of his Of Love and Other Demons. X-Files is about the only TV I watch. I do not watch sitcoms and do not like music inspired by sitcoms. I'd rather listen to a sampled rap version of the Jetsons theme song."