The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


For his second LP -- and second album of 1973 -- Bruce Springsteen met the challenge of taking his music to the next level. Already evident was the evolutionary process that would continue through every album to come. Ever-restless and endlessly ambitious as an artist, Springsteen threw everything but the kitchen sink into this album and came out with, at an absolute minimum, an action-packed live show, an anthem for his followers to sing along to, and a memorable name for his increasingly tight backing band.

If on Greetings From Asbury Park Springsteen sounded like a folk singer with a band behind him, a la Bob Dylan 1965, on The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle he sounds like a supercharged rhythm and blues frontman with the charisma to electrify thousands at a time (the phrase "Van Morrison in hyperdrive" comes to mind…). The newly christened E Street Band is fully integrated in this set of songs, and slams them home with giddy authority.

The difference is evident right away as the band launches into the classic white soul of "The E Street Shuffle," fueled by David Sancious's dated but delicious clavinet (shades of Stevie Wonder) and Clarence Clemons' sassy sax work. The slow-building ballad that follows -- "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" -- is where you can see a bigger change, though. On Greetings, Springsteen's characters were all young and wild and living for the moment. "Sandy" looks beyond the horizon of tonight into the future, recognizes the way life's changes often part young lovers, and brings that realization to bear in a sweet, prematurely nostalgic song that's part romantic plea and part artful goodbye. You can almost hear the transition from teenager to young man happen between verses.

The rest of the album is more or less a joyride through a musical funhouse that blends r&b, roots-rock and white soul into a frothy, exuberant punch. "Kitty's Back" starts out very Van Morrison and accelerates into a full-on jam, a musical adventure anchored in a solid r&b groove. "Wild Billy's Circus Story" is one of Springsteen's early experiments, a cut that opens up in Dixieland with accordion and tuba leading the way, and later on finds Springsteen playing mandolin and trying on the country-blues singing style he would use again on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nebraska and Ghost Of Tom Joad.

The biggest advance, though, is that Springsteen has reined in his initial tendency to overwrite. These songs are full of evocative images and details, but don't feel nearly as crowded or overeager as the material on Greetings. It's almost as though the more energy he invested in the music, the tighter his lyrics became.

Starting out side two of the original album structure, "Incident on 57th Street" feels like an early blueprint for the Born To Run album that would follow 18 months later. Opening with solo piano, Bruce and the band do a steady build through another narrative of Spanish Johnny, Janey and the rest of the street rats searching for love, a thrill, a purpose, a way out. "We may find it out on the street tonight baby / Or we may walk until the daylight maybe," sings Bruce, and you can feel a chorus of "tramps like us" hiding right around the corner as Sancious and Danny Federici's terrific piano and organ work lights the way. The song breaks down and then builds to a brilliant climax featuring a guitar solo from Springsteen, a gospel chorus and a final breakdown back to the piano coda…

…that kicks right into one of the highlights of Springsteen's four-decade run. "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" is a 7:05 rumbling, tumbling, tempo-shifting, tongue-twisting, break-it-down-and-fire-it-up-again rock and roll thrill ride. It's impossible to capture in mere words the sheer volume of energy and exuberance this one unloads through your speakers. If you aren't on your feet by the finish, I can't help you, and neither can Bruce.

If "Incident" feels like a blueprint for what was coming next, the closer "New York City Serenade" feels like the model home itself. Springsteen takes chance after chance with this song, throwing in an extended piano intro, strings, melodramatic vocals, sharp, unexpected tempo shifts and a stunningly expansive arrangement. The oversized soundscape and musical palette he uses here points inevitably toward the pinnacle he would reach on the next album with "Jungleland," of almost operatic rock and roll, amped-up soul music with the sweep and ambition of a million-dollar Broadway finale.

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is an album that leaves you drained at the end, spent and smiling, much like the live shows that Springsteen and the E Streeters put on in the wake of its release. One of those shows would change the lives of at least two men who participated: Springsteen himself, and his future manager/producer Jon Landau, the noted young music critic who, after catching a show at the Harvard Square Theater, famously wrote "I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen."

That's the kind of ecstatic reaction this music inspired in Bruce's early followers. For better or worse, that core audience was about to get much bigger. This wouldn't be the album that broke Springsteen, but it surely primed the pump, and stands as one of his very best.

Rating: A

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© 2005 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.