The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle
Released: November 1973
Chart Peak: #59
Weeks Charted: 34
Certified Gold: 5/2/77
Greetings from Asbury Park, Bruce Springsteen's uproarious debut album, sounded like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" played at 78, a typical five-minute track bursting with more words than this review. Most of it didn't make much sense, but that was the point. Springsteen was rhyming and wailing for the sheer fun of it, and his manic exuberance more than canceled out his debts to Dylan, Van Morrison and the Band. The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle takes itself more seriously. The songs are longer, more ambitious and more romantic; and yet, wonderfully, they lose little of Greetings' rollicking rush. Having released two fine albums in less than a year, Springsteen is obviously a considerable new talent.
Like Greetings, the new album is about the streets of New York and the tacky Jersey Shore, but the lyrics are no longer merely zany cut-ups. They're striking amalgams of romance and gritty realism: "And the boys from the casino dance with their shirts open like Latin lovers on the shore,/ Chasin' all those silly New York virgins by the score." The loveliness of the first line, the punk savvy of the second, and the humor of the ensemble add up to Springsteen's characteristic ambivalence and a complex appeal reminiscent of the Shangri-Las. In the midst of a raucous celebration of desire, "Rosalita," he can suddenly turn around and sing, "Some day we'll look back on this and think we all seem funny."
Springsteen is growing as a writer of music as well as of words. The best of his new songs dart and swoop from tempo to tempo and from genre to genre, from hell-bent-for-leather rock to luscious schmaltz to what is almost recitative. There is an occasional weak spot or an awkward transition, but for the most part it works spectacularly, and nowhere to more dramatic effect than on "Incident on 57th Street," the album's most stunning track, a virtual mini-opera about Johnny, a "romantic young boy" torn between Jane and the bright knives out on the street. Springsteen never resolves the conflict (if he ever does his music will probably become less interesting). Instead he milks it for all it's worth, wrapping up all the song's movements and juxtapositions with his unabashedly melodramatic and loonily sotted Sloppy Joe voice.
- Ken Emerson, Rolling Stone, 1/31/74.
Good as the debut set was, this new one is a staggering advance. Bruce is playing electric guitar now (there was very little on Greetings), and he's superb, both as a rhythm player and as a soloist (check out his highly charged lead at the end of "Incident on 57th Street" and see what I mean -- you'd have to go to Robin Trower for comparable intensity). There's a good deal more overdubbing her, too. The added instrumental density is beautifully handled; the textures overall are still reminiscent of Highway 61, but they go light years beyond it, into something I can only describe as the Coasters on Abbey Road. The new songs are superb. Side one is (consciously, I think) a warmup, yet it's marvelous, especially "Sandy."
But side two is positively epochal; it's been giving me goosebumps for weeks now. It's a sort of suite, a homage to New York City, and no one in recent years has so accurately captured the city's violence and poetry. "Incident on 57th Street," the opener, may be a masterpiece. Without using much more than the chords to "La Bamba" (like so many great rock songs -- notably "Like a Rolling Stone"), it conveys more atmosphere, more of the aching romanticism of the New York streetcorner rock ethos, than anything I can remember in years. More, it has one of the all-time great sing-along fade-out choruses. Then there's "Rosalita," an incredible mishmash and lyrical chestnuts in a dizzying way. The haunting "New York City Serenade" ends with an ode to a singing junkman, which may be at once the silliest and most magnificent image any rocker has ever concocted.
I realize that I have made this album out to be the greatest thing since indoor plumbing (or the Two-Thousand-and-Thirteen-Year-Old Man's beloved liquid Prell) but you're just going to have to trust me on this one. Springsteen impresses me more and more as the major American figure of the decade. He and his superb band have seemingly digested every important strain of urban rock-and-roll of the last twenty years, emerging with a uniquely powerful and personal vision. If the Hibbing Minstrel's new album with the Band has even half of the fresh energy demonstrated here, we are going to be in for an extremely exciting 1974.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 4/74.
This young singer's debut earlier this year was an impressive one, with his interesting lyrics and fine singing, and this LP is, if anything, more impressive. Some of the obvious rhymes that found him compared with Dylan are still there, but the arrangements are more varied and the singing more spirited, as on "The E Street Shuffle" and "Kitty's Back." LP could be the one to vault him to stardom, especially with his stark images of New York City.
- Billboard, 1974.
Folkie trappings behind him, Springsteen has created a funky, vivacious rock and roll that's too eager and zany ever to be labeled tight, suggesting jazz heard through an open window with one r&b saxaphone, or Latin music out in the street with zero conga drums. He celebrates youth in all its irresponsible compassion and doomed arrogance, but he's also old enough to know better -- for him, the pleasures of the city are bigger and more exquisite than the defiance and escape that define most hard rock. "New York City Serenade" is as bathetic as you might fear, but "Rosalita" is more lyrical and ironic than you could have dreamed. This guy may not be God yet, but he has his sleeveless undershirt in the ring. A-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
A clear transition from the individually focused Greeting from Asbury Park, N.J., to the ensemble power of Born to Run, this fascinating recording shows the artist groping toward the potent, ultimately romantic sounds which would come to epitomize rock & roll for many young Americans. It is here, also, that his narrative lyrics, studded with quick, canny, compelling characters supported by truly adventurous song structures is first exposed; all to celebrate the glories and the grotesqueries of youth. Included are some transcendant moments: "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" being the obvious highlights. While the CD's sound stage is a bit constricted and the vocal tracks more mixed into the instrumentals, the sound is very good, devoid of hiss; dynamic and nicely defined. A-
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is a subtle masterpiece. The grooves are tougher, revealing the R&B heart that Greetings from Asbury Park stifled, and the songs are long enough to let him develop his characters and their situations. * * * * *
- John Floyd, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle is loose and expansive, with Springsteen and the original E Streeters really stretching out on "Kitty's Back" and the seminal "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." * * * *
- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Bruce Springsteen expanded the folk-rock approach of his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., to strains of jazz, among other styles, on its ambitious follow-up, released only eight months later. His chief musical lieutenant was keyboard player David Sancious (who lived on the E Street in Asbury Park that gave the album and Springsteen's backup group their names). Sancious's piano work was the backbone of tracks like "Incident on 57th Street" and "New York City Serenade" (for which he also wrote a string chart). With his help, Springsteen created a street-life mosaic of suburban society that owed much in its outlook to Van Morrison's romanticization of Belfast in Astral Weeks. Though Springsteen expressed endless affection and much nostalgia, his message was clear: This was a goodbye-to-all-that from a man who was moving on. "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" captured the theme in a panorama of summertime Boardwalk imagery, with a sheepish suitor trying out his lines on the title character in comic succession. "Love me tonight, for I may never see you again," he declared, and when that didn't work, "Love me tonight, and I promise I'll love you forever." "Kitty's Back" warned that those who had ambitions might be forced to return in failure, but by album's end, the hero had crossed the river and was on his way. The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle represented an astonishing advance even from the remarkable promise of Greetings. Musically and lyrically, Springsteen had brought an unruly muse under control and used it to make a mature statement that synthesized popular musical styles into complicated, well-executed arrangements and absorbing suites and that evoked a world precisely even as that world seemed to disappear. The unbanded three-song second side, comprising "Incident on 57th Street," "Rosalita (Come out Tonight)," and "New York City Serenade," was a flawless piece of music. There is a conventional wisdom that has gained credence in hindsight, following the personnel changes in the E Street Band in 1974 and the popular breakthrough of |Born to Run| in 1975; it suggests that The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is marred by production lapses and performance problems, specifically, the drumming of Vini Lopez. None of that is true. Lopez's busy, Keith Moon-style drumming is appropriate to the arrangements in a way that that of his replacement, Max Weinberg, never could have been. The production is fine. And the album's songs contain the best realization of Springsteen's poetic vision, which soon enough would be tarnished by disillusionment. Later, he would make different albums, but he never made a better one. The truth is that The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is one of the greatest albums in the history of rock & roll.
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock.
"Someday we'll look back on this/And it will all seem funny," Springsteen sings on "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)." Reeling from the commercial fizzle of his debut LP, Springsteen threw off the "new Dylan" baggage and applied his Jersey-bar-band skills to working-class stories and boardwalk love songs such as "Rosalita," "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and "Kitty's Back," creating the voice and lyric persona that would make him a superstar. His first chart buster, Born To Run, was a couple of years away. But The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle is where Springsteen gets ready for the last laugh.
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle was chosen as the 132nd greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Reeling from the commercial fizzle of his debut, Bruce Springsteen applied his Jersey-bar-band skills to some of the funniest tunes he'd write: "Rosalita," "Kitty's Back," and the boardwalk love song "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."
The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle was chosen as the 345th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.
- Rolling Stone, 10/20.
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