Great job, guys. I'd honestly love to see you do an album-by-album for Springsteen. These two installments have been my favorites so far, and I've really liked all of them--the passion you both have for Bruce's stuff really shines through in the writing. I think Craig, especially, really sharply articulated my thoughts about this album, in part because I've had more or less the same relationship with it as he has. It seems weird to say now, but for a long time, The Wild was a lower-tier Springsteen album for me. To be honest, I still don't find as much emotional resonance in it as I do in Born to Run, Darkness, or a select few songs on The River--albums whose characters have always seemed a tad more familiar and thus more relatable to me. But the more I've listened to it and the more my tastes have evolved to accomodate jazz and the wordy beatnik lyrical style employed by Bruce here and guys like Dylan and Waits elsewhere, the more I've come to appreciate this record. And that appreciation is magnified by the fact that I've also come to see it as the first chapter of a trilogy within the Springsteen canon, a loose narrative arc that continues in Born to Run and culminates in Darkness (pun intended).
The bleak conclusions about the American dream drawn on Darkness have their seeds planted on The Wild, which is an almost literal depiction of Darkness's protagonists five years earlier, appearing as amok-running ruffians skipping school, fighting off rival neighborhood gangs (in the '50's sense of leather-clad greasers who hang out at soda shops and try to steal your girl, not the '90's sense of street corner drug cartel who gun each other down for wearing the wrong color shoes), and trying to get laid. They stay out all night, loiter, and are generally obnoxious--the kinds of kids your parents always encouraged you not to hang out with, partially for your own well-being but mostly because they themselves didn't want to feel obliged to invite them over to the house and risk them forgetting to remove their shoes when walking on the carpet. But they do have a romantic side, and Springsteen creates for them a world of uncorrupted abandon that is common, I suspect, to how most Americans remember their own youths, regardless of whether or not they actually ditched their classes to go play pool or tried to convince innocent young things to sneak out their bedroom windows when their papas weren't looking. It's a portrait of camaraderie that, as the title says, is both wild and innocent. And because it kicked the folkie tendencies of his debut and brought in the foundations of what would become one of the greatest backing bands in rock history, it shuffles too.
Five years later, on Darkness, we find these same characters defeated, broken, their dreams shattered and their friends dispersed and gone. All their years of ditching class have finally led to the low-paying blue collar jobs that their parents and teachers always threatened it would, and despite whatever of their own shortcomings may have begotten such, these people feel cheated. Like the character in "Adam Raised a Cain," they're victims of their own fatalism, but like the character in "Racing in the Street," they're beginning to realize that they've been sold a false idealism. To paraphrase Craig, though, Wild is the moment before any of that darkness takes hold. It's an album enraptured in its own promise, a promise which is transparent enough (especially when taken in context of the other records), but also harmless enough when taken on its own. And yes, where Born to Run will always sound the most potent to me on the cusp of autumn and Darkness in the middle of that same season, it's that promise that makes Wild the perfect mid-summer album. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realize that.
There's definitely an arc on those three albums, which is probably why they're my three favorites. Bits and pieces of that story show up on The River too, but it's never been quite cohesive enough to continue the same story. There are days, though, when I would still place The River in my all time top 20. The best songs on there are as good as anything he's ever written that wasn't on Born to Run.
I would have no problem going from Bruce album to Bruce album, but I'm not sure how much response we'd get for that. Partially because Thomas already ran through the catalog as a solo "retro review" feature, and partially because readers around here, beyond a few exceptions, don't seem that into essay-length discussions about anything. I don't know, the whole feature is kind of confusing for me right now. I love writing these things, but wish more people would read them and engage in conversations about the works we present.
Yeah, I see where you're coming from. I usually make an effort to provide a thoughtful response, but I know a lot of other people either don't participate or simply don't read. Hopefully you decide to continue it. I think it's pretty easily the most interesting thing on the site right now.