BWW Album Review: The SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY Album Is Like An Audio Book Recorded Live
To be completely transparent, I was not chomping at the bit to see SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY, and I had no desire to procure a ticket of my own - especially at the prices they sold for. I simply could not wrap my head around a Broadway concert residency being a bona fide Broadway show. Especially not one that went on to win a special Tony Award. Listening to the album for SPRINGSTEEN ON BROADWAY, I kind of get it. I don't love it. I don't even really like it. But I do respect and appreciate the artistry of it.
Historically, the almost three-hour concert experience was extended three times and ran for a total of 236 sold out performances at the Walter Kerr theater. It was adapted from Springsteen's 2016 memoir Born to Run. This album is comprised of audio pulled from the Netflix special, which was released on December 15, 2018. The special - and this album, in turn - was recorded across two special, invite only performances of the Broadway event. Because of this, the album succeeds as a way for listeners to go inside the Walter Kerr with Springsteen.
We get to listen to an aging rock star sing instantly recognizable songs with passion and undeniable verve. But, we also get to spend time listening to him position himself as a storyteller. Sharing moments from his own experiences in New Jersey and beyond, we come to observe him as a master of oration. Pointing out how much of his music and life has been of the fake-it-until-you-make-it variety, he fascinates by letting audiences see the man behind the persona. Springsteen's honesty is refreshing and makes him, as an artist, all the more compelling. However, when he waxes poetic about his feelings on issues of the era - whether gone by or contemporary - he loses momentum. In these moments, the whole thing feels like nothing more than a large-scale, expensive vanity project.
Obviously not opting for a head mic, there are some audio quality issues that plague the narrative moments too. The audio suffers from what must be Springsteen turning his head away from the microphone. These moments interrupt the flow of the listening experience. Moreover, the minutes of narration outnumber the minutes of music. With a visual, I'm sure this is actually fine. Yet, as a listener, one cannot help but wonder if trimming these moments could have made for a more satisfying listening experience.
The music is where the album is at its absolute best. The song list boasts several of Springsteen's greatest hits, including "My Hometown," "Thunder Road," "Born in the U.S.A.," "Brilliant Disguise," "Dancing in the Dark," and "Born to Run." Whether signing these classics or any of the other hit tracks that round out the rest of set list, the strength and magnitude of Springsteen's voice cannot be denied. Naturally, it's not as youthful as it once was, but the grit and gravel add another layer of dimension to his instrument. And, his emotive majesty makes the piquant performances on the record truly come to dazzling life. When performing music on the record, Springsteen proves himself a musician and vocalist still at the top of his game.
For fans of "The Boss," this set is definitely a must own. For those who are curious about what happened in the Walter Kerr during his residency, this recording lets those experience it. For casual fans of Springsteen, owning just the musical performances is likely enough. The justification for a rock star to desire or even need the glitz and glamor of being on Broadway simply doesn't translate to an audio only experience. And, the final product feels like an audio book recorded live.