Release Date: Oct 23, 2020
Record label: Columbia
Letter to You comes quickly on the heels of Western Stars, a long-gestating 2019 immersion into the lush, progressive country vistas of the early 1970s, but in a sense, it's a true sequel to Bruce Springsteen's 2016 memoir Born to Run and its 2017 stage companion Springsteen on Broadway. It's an album where Springsteen reckons with the weight of the past, how its ghosts are still readily apparent in the present, an album where the veteran singer/songwriter is keenly aware he has more road in his rearview mirror than he does on the highway ahead of him. Springsteen does find himself drawn to the good old days, reviving three unrecorded songs from the days separating the split of his first band the Castiles and his contract with CBS, adding them to a clutch of new songs where Bruce ponders what it means to be the "Last Man Standing," surrounded by the spirits of old friends who may no longer be alive but are still a palpable psychic presence.
A reverential, loyal dude, Bruce Springsteen has long carried himself like someone who owes his good fortune to those who came before him. As singular and iconic as his musical trajectory has been, Springsteen has shaped his songs and his live revue of a show distinctively and originally — feats that may scream 'That's the Boss!' but bear traces of all of his musical and cultural influences. Some emanate from heroes he's never met, some from the friends and players who got him started in his earliest days in New Jersey.
Bruce Springsteen's career has been spent observing. As he once so aptly put it, the songwriter has spent half a century discussing the gap between the American dream and the American reality, watching the figures who stretch across this divide. With his 2015 autobiography and subsequent Broadway show, however, The Boss seemed to look inwards. It's a spell of introspection that has left him profoundly altered, one that has re-shaped the way he looks at his own position in the world, and also the relationships that surround him.
Bruce Springsteen's acclaimed 18 months at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway felt like an overwhelming career summation, and may even have had the sense of an ending. This, however, is not at all how this man operates. Retirement is not on the agenda. Following hot on the heels from the compelling artistic tributary of Western Stars, Letter To You once again reunites Springsteen with the E Street Band.
When the world first met him in the mid-'70s, Bruce Springsteen might have seemed like a throwback. He sang about first loves and teenage runaways; he dressed like a greaser and worshipped at the altar of jukeboxes and summer nights on the boardwalk. Many of his influences--Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Phil Spector--were at least a decade past the peak of their cultural impact.
When reading the first hundred pages of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, the reader is hit with a huge revelation: the myth of Springsteen is more interesting than the man's actual life. Detailed with entertaining but slight stories, the beginning of Born to Run (the book) makes you realize that it's way more gripping to listen to Springsteen sing about working for the man every day than it is reading how he was an awkward, Catholic kid revolutionized by rock and roll. Despite this, Springsteen has been trafficking in nostalgia a lot recently, from his book to his Broadway show.
The Lowdown: Even bosses get writers' block sometimes. Such was the case for Bruce Springsteen in early 2019. Facing down 70 and preparing to release Western Stars (his best-reviewed record in nearly a decade and one of our top 50 albums of 2019), Springsteen wasn't totally sure what might come next. On his 20th studio album, he answers that question on both a micro and a macro level.