CK Retro Review: Ranking Bruce Springsteen’s AlbumsPosted: June 12, 2014
One of my readers did this for me with Dylan when I did Retro Reviews on his albums, and I thought it would be a neat idea to sort of wrap up what I’ve been doing the past several weeks with Springsteen. The basic idea is to take the star ratings for each of the songs, add them up, and divide them by the number of songs on each album, thus yielding a sort of rating for each album. And here’s how it turned out, from best to worst:
1. Born To Run-4.5
3. Darkness On The Edge Of Town-4.2
4. Born In The U.S.A.-4.16
5. The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle-4.14
6. Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ-4.00
7. The River-3.8
8. Tunnel Of Love-3.73
10. Wrecking Ball-3.55
11. Working On A Dream-3.54
12. The Ghost Of Tom Joad-3.33
13. Lucky Town-3.3
14. The Seeger Sessions-3.23
15. The Rising-3.13
T16. Devils & Dust-3
T16. High Hopes-3
18. Human Touch-2.71
A few observations:
– I find it interesting that Greetings is ranked so well. I always talk about it as being uneven, and I still think it is, but I find the songwriting fascinating even when the songs themselves are flawed on that album. And the songs that cohere on that album are stellar. So I guess I just hold a soft spot in my heart for those early days when Springsteen just threw everything he had at every song, as opposed to being the tough editor he eventually became.
– Wrecking Ball nips Working On A Dream, but I think if I could take only one of them to a desert island right now, it would probably be the latter. That could be because I’ve heard Wrecking Ball more often due to its being more recent and oft-played (especially on E Street Radio), but I still think the numbers betray my true feelings a bit here.
– Interesting how Lucky Town outstrips some albums that probably have a better reputation, but I feel like the ranking is accurate. Had Springsteen only released that album and shelved Human Touch, I think Lucky Town would certainly have a better standing among the faithful. It gets bogged down by its association with the weakest album in the Bruce canon.
– Nebraska at #2: I can live with that because of its stunning consistency, and the way that Bruce makes an album of acoustic songs still sound so varied. Maybe that’s why The Ghost Of Tom Joad suffers a little bit; where Nebraska zips by, Joad can feel like a bit of a drag when taken all in one sitting.
Overall, this little mathematical exercise was enlightening. Obviously, trying to quantify music is somewhat foolhardy; as much of a sabermetric fan as I might be, I can’t make the leap that you can render a piece of words and music as a set of data in the same way you can a baseball player’s performance.
Yet I think that anyone can do this kind of thing, using their opinions as the basis, and it can provide a pretty good overview of the quality of an artist’s work over time. The old adage that says numbers don’t lie doesn’t completely apply in this case, but I think it’s fair to say that they are somewhere in the vicinity of the truth.
Stay tuned next week for excerpts from my new book Counting Down Bruce Springsteen: His 100 Finest Songs, now available at all online booksellers.