Let me be the first to hail Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Live in New York City, as a masterpiece. Granted, I haven’t actually heard the thing, which is scheduled for release this week, or seen Springsteen’s HBO special, which is scheduled to debut on April 7, or attended last year’s Madison Square Garden concerts, which were taped for the live album and special. However, I think this works to my advantage as a critic, since listening to Springsteen’s music would only interfere with appreciating his greatness as an American icon.
Also, I don’t need to hear the music as long as I can read the list of 20 songs on this double CD. For example, it includes “Prove It All Night,” a sedulously serious rocker that anticipated the Pavement-Sebadoh branch of indie rock by making sex sound utterly joyless. The list also covers Springsteen’s cinematic evolution from the romantic pessimism of West Side Story (“Jungleland”) to the calibrated anger of Terrence Malick (“Badlands”) to the “I coulda been a contender” ruefulness of Elia Kazan (“The River”) to the socially conscious outrage of John Sayles (“Born in the U.S.A.”). With such other uplifting numbers as “Atlantic City” and “Mansion on the Hill,” this song list demonstrates Springsteen’s remarkable ability to delight, entertain, and astonish fans for three decades with songs about the miserable lives of people who can’t afford tickets to his shows.
There are two new songs on the album, but you don’t need to hear them to know what they’re about, either. Sony helpfully notes in its press release that “Land of Hope and Dreams” features “themes of redemption of community,” thus immediately distinguishing it from Springsteen’s other songs. And “American Skin” has already proven that Springsteen is a greater provocateur than Eminem, since he didn’t even have to release a CD in order to start a national controversy over his song content. I just wish that Springsteen’s songs had Eminem’s sense of humor. Or even Ralph Nader’s.
Chris Nelson’s review of Springsteen’s “My City in Ruins.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 3, 2001