The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

from feature "The Best Albums of the Last Twenty Years"

(from Australian Rolling Stone October 1987 - issue 411)


"Walk tall" murmurs Bruce Springsteen on "New York City Serenade", the closing song on his second album, "or baby, don't walk at all". It might have been a message to himself, as the record had to overcome the new-Dylan hype and commercial failure of his debut, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. Virtually abandoned by both radio and his record company, the scrawny, bearded street kid rose to the challenge and walked tall. "I started slowly to find out who I am", he has said, "and where I wanted to be. It was like coming out of the shadow of various influences and trying to be yourself." Though still verbose and sometimes murkily recorded, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle reveals a soaring, sprawling romanticism, and the E Street Band (albeit an early version) sounds looser and more spontaneous than on Greetings.

The song "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" typefies the complexity of Springsteen's songwriting. His vivid descriptions of the boardwalk's sights and sounds ("our carnival life on the water") serve as background for the impassioned plea "Love me tonight, and I promise I'll love you forever." He's not just another kid with a throbbing libido glorifying youth: the song's protagonist realises forlornly that he must "quit this scene", and he invites Sandy to share the ride to adulthood.

The other extended songs - "Kitty's Back" and all of side two - are similarly novellalike in their ability to encompass character, mood and setting. Yet they never fall into pretentiousness and never fail to rock out. The album showcases the versatile band: Clarence Clemons's full-bodied sax, Danny Federici's melancholic accordion, David Sancious's jazzy keyboards. And Springsteen's own distinctively hard-edged guitar sound stands out, especially on "Kitty's Back" and the classic "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)".

On the brink of failure, Springsteen proved himself a poet with this album and paved the way for his national breakout.

Highest chart position: #59
Total U.S. Sales: 1.5 million

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