The Essential Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

Fans of Bruce Springsteen know his songs are sketches in time that transcend the charts and leap for the juggler. As a three-disc set, The Essential Bruce Springsteen is all that and more as it covers the Boss' entire 30-plus-years odyssey in rich and bountiful detail. The first two discs contain a plethora of fan favorites and radio hits, easily surpassing the singer-songwriter's Greatest Hits release from 1995. From the cinematic melodrama of "Born To Run" to the patriotic rumble of "Born In The USA," Springsteen dodges bullets, hightailing one strident riff for another low-key, somber invocation. They come in all shapes, sizes, forms and desires. There always these colorful characters that breathe life into the songs, whether it's the street-smart kids of "Jungleland," the downtrodden dreamer of "The River," or the murderer of "Nebraska." Emotional scars bleed through other tracks, like injections into a soul wary of salvation. Even the romantic rhubarbs that flow from "Brilliant Disguise" are enough to get in a huff about. "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town," the title tracks from two albums simultaneously released and recorded without the E Street Band, shift the load somewhat. Springsteen diehards were less than pleased, but they stuck by their man, and waited to see what would happen next.

Thankfully, the Oscar-winning "Streets of Philadelphia" puts it all back into perspective. The title track from The Rising, along with "Mary's Place" and "Lonesome Day," almost takes it all the way. But "Empty Sky" or "You're Missing" would have provided a more complete picture of Springsteen's post 9/11 lament. In the liner notes, Springsteen even acknowledges the absence of another pivotal tune from The Rising — "My City Of Ruins," a powerful spiritual also performed at the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon. Maybe they had to make room for "American Skin (41 Shots)," a controversial tome based on the tragic 1999 death of Amadou Diallo, a black West African immigrant who was gunned down while reaching for his wallet by New York City police officers. Oops, there go any potential sales to NYC's finest. Too bad, because they'll miss out on what makes The Essential Bruce Springsteen unique from other Sony Essential titles. The third disc of rarities features some riveting live tracks, B-sides, songs for soundtracks and benefit albums, covers, and an alternate acoustic version of "Countin' On A Miracle." This disc alone should summon the loyalty of Springsteen's brethren. For everyone else, it's just an extra slice of the American Pie.

~ Shawn Perry

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