What has happened to Bruce Springsteen? He has spent the past couple albums sort of not being Bruce. There wasn't room in my review this morning of "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions," his latest, to fully explore this topic, but I have a theory.
Last year's solo album "Devils & Dust" was very Dylanesque, and "The Seeger Sessions" is all about the songs of folk singer Pete Seeger. That means the last album he released that sounded like Springsteen was "The Rising" in 2002, which is sort of a musical diary of 9/11 and its aftermath. Maybe that record took a lot out of him, maybe he's bored with his usual sound or maybe — and this is my theory — he needs a little vacation from himself.
Consider: Springsteen put his credibility on the line in a big way in 2004 with his support of John Kerry for president. He laid out his views in an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times, which marked the first time he had taken an explicit political stand. And he lost.
It certainly wasn't Springsteen's fault — Kerry was the architect of his own defeat that year. But maybe Bruce took it hard. He's certainly been laying low since then. There have been no full-scale E Street Band tours. The two new albums he has released have taken him in unexpected directions, and "The Seeger Sessions" finds him fixated on the past.
That's fine, of course — it's his prerogative as an artist to make whatever music he wants. But the current cultural climate seems tailor-made for a Springsteen album addressing what's happening now. That's what he's always done best, whether he's singing about the angst of growing up and getting out on "Born to Run," economic disaffection on "Born in the U.S.A." or 9/11 on "The Rising."
"I've tried to write songs that speak to our pride and criticize our failures," he wrote in The Times.
Those are just the sort of songs we could use right now.