Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You, review: hopeful songs of loss and experience

Stream: Janey Needs a Shooter, Ghosts, Letter to You

With songs entitled Ghosts, I’ll See You in My Dreams and Last Man Standing, you might think Bruce Springsteen’s 20th studio album, released at the age of 71, is a maudlin reflection on mortality. Not so. Letter To You shows The Boss full of hope and vim – albeit from the wise perspective of one with lived-in experience.

It’s not just the three of the 12 songs written in his early twenties (the potently melodic Janey Needs a Shooter, If I Was the Priest, Song for Orphans) that give the album its youthful vigour. The others were composed last year, but with all tracks arranged and recorded simultaneously, it is hard to distinguish those decades apart.

Springsteen has rejoined the E Street Band for the first studio album since 2014’s High Hopes, recording it live at his New Jersey home studio in five days last November. The energy of such immediate capturing of songs tackling loss, religion and the solace found in rock music is keenly felt throughout. The title track unleashes the seven-piece band’s familiar sonic tidal wave, with uplifting Hammond organ and piano, and Springsteen’s crooning. Burnin’ Train hurtles into power-ballad terrain with a zest for life as Springsteen gives full throttle to all-macho, faith-driven imagery.

There are sentimental, introspective moments, too. One Minute You’re Here is a sombre opener with synth strings, tambourines and chiming glockenspiel adding emotion to acoustic guitar and Springsteen’s resigned admission “Baby, baby, baby, I’m so alone”. When he tackles mortality again in the finale, I’ll See You in My Dreams, it is with sage positivity (“We’ll meet and live and laugh again”).

Ghosts may be an ode to those lost members of the E Street Band, but the vibe is life-affirming 80s rock anthem. This is Springsteen embracing music’s redemptive power as he exclaims, “I turn up the volume, let the spirits be my guide”.


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