CK Retro Review: The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street ShufflePosted: April 3, 2014
With his second album, 1973’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen found a pocket somewhere between the flights of fancy of progressive rock and the sweaty integrity of a soul revue. Although the album flirts with indulgence in places, it cemented Springsteen’s artistic credibility, utilized the nascent E Street Band in wonderful ways, and features three no-questions-asked classics among just seven songs. Here is a song-by-song review:
7. “Wild Billy’s Circus Story”- You’ve got some true believers out there (including Elvis Costello) who think this one belongs in the five-star territory. I’ve always found it more of a fun little novelty, getting a kick out of Garry Tallent’s prancing tuba work and maybe some unintentional comedy from some of Bruce’s lyrics about Flying Zambinis, Missy Bimbo, and the rest. It’s impressive as an exercise in sharp detail, but maybe too detailed to be truly magical.
6. “Kitty’s Back”- Here’s an example of a song that works better as a live rave-up than it does in the studio. On the plus side, if you don’t like a particular instrumental motif, just wait a few seconds and you’ll hear a different one. All that changing gets the slightest bit wearisome, and it overwhelms any real chance of the story of Catlong and Kitty hooking you too deep. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of instrumental virtuosity in the band’s catalog; this is a truly breathless workout.
5. “New York City Serenade”- Springsteen tells the story of the city in small vignettes, moments when nobody else is looking which he then blows up to cinema-size via the evocative music. It really is a beautiful piece of music, credit going to all the players but especially to David Sancious on piano and string arrangement and special guest Richard Blackwell on congas. It’s so pretty that the words can sometimes be more of a distraction than an attraction, not something you can say about too many Bruce songs. Ten minutes of imploring, and she still won’t take that damn train.
4. “The E Street Shuffle”- All these fantastically memorable characters that Springsteen was creating needed a place to hang out, right? So E Street became the setting, then and forever after, for their exploits, thanks to this crackerjack opening track. Sancious’ clavinet suggests that Bruce had Stevie Wonder albums on heavy rotation, while the horns tuning up is the perfect way to begin the disc. Freed by the funk, Springsteen sounds winningly loose as effortlessly spins street poetry about Power Thirteen and Little Angel, a pair who court disaster on ever street corner yet couldn’t be more lovable. All you gotta do to do this dance is form a line and sidestep the trouble lurking in the sweet chaos of a summer night.
3. “4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”- Of course, Springsteen nails every last nook and cranny of the “boardwalk life” that he knew so well. Yet this song could have been set anywhere and still it would have been moving in Bruce’s trusted hands, since the emotions of a young man standing on the precipice of a big change in his life are what count and are what he conveys. Sometimes nostalgia can become a stumbling block to progress; you can get caught up in the allure of the scene, evident in Danny Federici’s loving accordion part in his first major contribution to Bruce’s work, and find yourself spinning around on life’s Tilt-A-Whirl, going nowhere. As for Sandy, she may not join him on his journey, but, considering the narrator’s melancholy charm, she’d be hard-pressed to turn down one last fling in the fireworks’ glow.
2. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”- On the surface, it’s one big come-on from a sweet-talking suitor to a reticent girl guarded by an overbearing family; that’s a tale as old as time. Or you can hear it as Bruce Springsteen’s declaration of intention to the entire rock and roll listening public: I’m coming, I have a scorching band at my side, and there’s nobody that’s going to stop me. Unlike some of the other long tracks on the album, every musical shift is more invigorating than the next one, ’til you’re pretty much in a puddle by the song’s completion. I can’t think of many good-time rock songs that show even a fraction of the intelligence, wit, and heart on display here.
1. “Incident On 57th Street”- They say that youth is wasted on the young, but that waste can be beautiful, especially when rendered by Springsteen. Let’s tip our hats to Tallent on this one; usually he’s a supporting class act, but his bass work here keeps this one light on its feet even when the action gets pretty heavy. As much as Puerto Rican Jane might wish that Spanish Johnny sticks around, she knows he won’t; that was always part of the bargain when they hooked up. She’s not about to judge him for his recklessness, nor would Springsteen. If anything, he identifies with the need to act out, even foolishly, in a world that wants to keep you numb. And if that foolishness causes you to end up a memory conjured by a lonely girl’s music box, at least you’re a good memory. This song scales thrilling heights, but the quiet moments dig even deeper. It sets the standard that the Born To Run album would somehow rise to meet.
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