White Rabbit Records - Blog

2023/4 Albums Thing 352 - Bruce Springsteen “Letter To You”

Posted on


Bruce Springsteen’s most recent album of original material, his 20th studio album, was released in 2020 and in places reaches some seriously emotional heights.

“Letter To You” is about time, ageing and loss. In 2018 George Theiss, founding member of The Castiles, passed away. This left Bruce Springsteen as the only surviving member of the first band he had been a member of, this affected him quite profoundly. It prompted the writing of the first song for this album, “Last Man Standing”. That and five other songs give “Letter To You” its central story, of those young men coming together to seek rock ‘n’ roll glory, growing old together and finally having to say goodbye.

The title song sees Springsteen offering his audience a testimonial, a summary of what he’s been trying to say to us all these years (“In my letter to you, I took all my fears and doubts, In my letter to you, All the hard things I found out…And I sent it in my letter to you”), not why but what.

“Last Man Standing” is the song that kick started this whole album. Lyrically it’s a list of memories of those early days in your first band, the people you played with, the places you played, how it felt, all capped off with the realisation that all that is now in the past and gone and “I'm the last man standing now”.

We all have our own ways of praying. I restricted mine to 3 minutes and a 45 rpm record…Life in 180 seconds or less. If you get it right, it has the power of prayer.”  –Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You (2020). “The Power Of Prayer” ain’t about going to no church, it’s an offering to the power of the 7” single, and extension of the lyric in “Bobby Jean” from Born In The USA” that told us “we learned more from a 3 minute record baby than we ever learned in school”.

“House Of A Thousand Guitars” (probably my least favourite track) I find it confusing. It’s a hymn to the church of rock ‘n’ roll, the gig, and to rock ‘n’ rolls most revered symbol, the guitar. But the whole song hangs off a classic bit of Roy Bittan piano thumping ! Guitars barely feature at all, go figure.

“Ghosts” may well be my favourite song on this record. “I hear the sound of your guitar, Coming in from the mystic far…”. It’s that joyous rush of youth and the noise you make in your first bands. Memories of standing up there with your brothers giving it all you have, allied to the feelings of other songs knowing that those days and people are gone and all that’s left are the ghosts of those times.

“I’ll See You In My Dreams” in this incarnation is a full band workout. On his current World Tour it’s the song Springsteen has finished the set with on the majority of nights including both the shows we have seen. If the central theme of “Letter To You” is ageing and loss then that is the same message he’s been trying to get across in his recent live shows. The song is the partner of “Last Man Standing”, it relates the same story of those young boys looking for rock ’n’ roll Valhalla and although Bruce now knows he’s the last of them he’s afforded them some immortality by writing about them and committing that to record. Someone said to me at a funeral recently that you only truly die when the last person talks about you, this is that statement in song “I'll see you in my dreams, yeah around the river bend, For death is not the end…”. It’s a fantastic end for this album, all swooping Hammond Organs  and twangy, Duane Eddy style guitars and the belief that “I'll see you in my dreams when all our summers have come to an end, I’ll see you in my dreams, we'll meet and live and laugh again…I’ll see you in my dreams”, we all need that, right ?

In a similar vein to “High Hopes” half of “Letter To You” is made up of songs that have been around for some time. “Janey Needs A Shooter”, “If I Was The Priest” and “Song For Orphans” all date back to the early ‘70’s. “Janey…” was originally recorded for “The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle” and was considered for inclusion on both “Born To Run” and “The River” although it would have sounded very conspicuous on all of them. “Burnin’ Train” was first demoed in 1993, album opener “One Minute You’re Here”, which does fit this albums themes of loss well, dates to around 2004. “Rainmaker” was written around the time of “The Rising” and this recording likely comes from the “Magic” sessions, it would have fit well on either.

Fans at Springsteen shows bring banners with them in order to request songs. He usually pulls 2 or three of these up on stage (the banners not the fans) each night and plays them. “If I Was The Priest” has become quite a popular request song and he played it in Europe for the first time ever when we saw him recently in Cardiff. It’s not bad, it’s not great either, it’s an early example of the sort of song he perfected on “Jungleland”, “Incident On 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade”, the epic. romantic street songs. But this one talks of Sherrif’s, Dodge City and Cheyenne so didn’t really fit the cityscapes he was writing in the early 70’s which is maybe why it didn’t surface on record for 50 years !

There are fans out in the world that aren’t big fans of “Letter To You” citing its less than coherent theme. The theme is age and loss but of the old songs that have been included only “One Minute You’re Here” fits that. I liked the album on first hearing and hey, can’t a guy just make a record without everything being tightly thematically linked ? I said when this album was released I couldn’t wait to hear some of it live. In the two shows we’ve seen since this albums release we’ve been treated to performances of “Letter To You”, “Ghosts”, “Last Man Standing”, “If I Was The Priest” and the heartfelt acoustic run through “I’ll See You In My Dreams” neatly wrapping up the album and shows. “Letter To You” isn’t Bruce Springsteen’s best album and by a long shot it’s not his worst, it is one I really like though. 

This is where we end our dive into Bruce Springsteen’s albums (we won’t be touching the ridiculous covers album “Only The Strong Survive”, the first Bruce Springsteen album I have no interest in hearing…what were you thinking Boss ?), well almost. There’s a lot more I could have said about all of them but I wanted to keep them as concise as I possibly could so I didn’t bore you all. Alongside David Bowie and Paul Weller, Bruce Springsteen has probably had more effect on me musically than any other. Only two of those guys are still with us and making music and The Boss is the only one of them I’m still interested in…only the strong survive huh ? If any of this made any of you take a listen to Bruce Springsteen where you haven’t before then I’ve done a decent job. Thanx for indulging me these past 4weeks…

Ghosts - https://youtu.be/Lo5QNcFioZ4?si=Pg9zVDWtUkzY9qXO

Add a comment:

Leave a comment:


Add a comment