Bruce Springsteen's new album "Letter To You" comes as a surprise. But those who expected a real political album like "The Rising" after the 9/11 attacks in Corona and US election campaign times, will be disappointed. Although it is not a "letter" about the current state of the world, "Letter To You" is an album full of wisdom, on which the musician deals intensively with his past. And there is no reason for disappointment: Even if the snowy cover may evoke other associations, this musical "writing" is probably the most energetic E-Street band album since "Born In The U.S.A.". We go on a search for clues and shed light on the painful creation process of "Letter To You", dedicate ourselves to its heavy topics, the top-class songs and its special sound.
Despite all the personnel losses: The most famous bar band in the world is back. After his biggest commercial triumph with "Born In The U.S.A." (1984), the boss had kept his famous accompanying band in the studio for a long time and preferred to release solo albums such as "Tunnel Of Love" (1987), "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" (1995), "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" (2006) or most recently the nostalgic "Western Stars" (2019). Also on "High Hopes" (2004), the last work with the E Street Band, the latter, along with numerous other musicians, did not play the outstanding role it was usually accorded. Springsteen's new work is an uncompromising return to his Heartland Rock, which is bursting with power and magic. The man from New Jersey has thus succeeded in making a big hit. At the same time, it reveals personal things, which tie in with his autobiography "Born To Run" (2016)
Live in the studio like never before
"Letter To You" was created within a few days in November 2019 in Springsteen's home studio. It was the first time since "The River Tour" 2016 that the E Street Band and their boss got together. This was preceded by the release of Springsteen's autobiography "Born To Run", combined with intimate one-man shows on Broadway (2017/18), and the nostalgic album "Western Stars", which evoked the old American West in the cowboy style of a Glen Campbell. Springsteen's 20th studio album finally comes up with the classic E-Street sound again. What's more, it's as raw, unpolished and powerful as the boss and his band last sounded on a studio album on "The River" (1980). In the press statement for the release it says effusively: "I love the emotional character of 'Letter To You', and I love the sound of the E Street Band, who play completely live in the studio as we have never done before, without overdubs. We recorded the album in just five days and it turned out to be one of the greatest recording experiences I've ever had" In fact, it lacks none of the hallmarks of the American rock institution: cracking guitars, roaring organ, orgiastic saxophone solos, jingling glockenspiel and pounding piano. It is hardly noticeable that now the nephew of Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011, blows into the saxophone and Charles Giordano presses the organ chords instead of Danny Federici, who had already died in 2008
A dinner with consequences
The decisive course was set at a dinner with keyboarder Roy Bittan, who (similar to guitarist Steve Van Zandt years before) made an emphatic request to his "boss": "Hey, man, don't make demos. Let's do it like we used to: Play us a song and then let's record it" (online edition of the US-American "Rolling Stone" from September 20th). This abandonment of ready-made demos, which had characterized Springsteen's work from "Nebraska" (1982) to "Tunnel Of Love" (1987) to the song "Streets Of Philadelphia" (1994) and beyond, meant that the songwriter had to refrain from too strict guidelines and arrangements, which would have slowed down the E Street Band in the studio. Springsteen himself admitted: "When I record demos, I start adding things to see if they work, and suddenly I'm stuck in an arrangement. And then the band has to fit into an arrangement, and suddenly it's not an E Street Band album any more." So for the current recordings, he encouraged the band to play the way they do instead. The slow development via "The Rising" (2002) and "Magic" (2007) back to band teamwork made especially the eternal critic Van Zandt happy: "We have finally managed to return to the sensitive interaction of the band, where Bruce feels comfortable again with trusting the band and thinking like a band member" And drummer Max Weinberg also raved, "It was like the old days."