At some point during the early 2000s, the world of indie started to re-embrace the Boss — a welcome development for those, like us, who’ve always appreciated Bruce Springsteen’s songwriting talents. Springsteen’s always been more interesting than his popular image dictated — anyone who just knows him as the “Born in the USA” guy might be surprised to know that he frequently covers Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” and sang on Lou Reed’s magnum opus “Street Hassle” — and over the last decade or so, a steady stream of contemporary musicians have started to make decidedly Bruce-influenced tunes. Of course, as with anything, there’s the good ones and the bad ones — so in celebration of the release of latter day Bruce-alike Craig Finn’s debut solo album Clear Heart Full Eyes, here’s our verdict on Springsteen wannabes over the years, starting with the best and working progressively down the totem pole.
Craig Finn / The Hold Steady
At his best, Springsteen is an unusually literate songwriter with a talent for creating narrative lyrics that are both vivid and involving — a description that also fits Craig Finn down to a tee. Finn is pretty open about the influence that the Boss has had on his work, citing the Springsteen tribute show at Carnegie Hall in 2007 (where he shared the stage and the mic with Bruce himself) as his “#1 magic moment.”
Mountain Goats fans might not entirely appreciate Darnielle figuring here, but as with Craig Finn, Darnielle has a talent for creating narrative songs based around compelling, believable characters. He’s most definitely one of the finest lyricists gracing the world of music today, and while he’s perhaps less concerned with gritty romanticism than Bruce, he has plenty in common with the Boss. (And judging by the above video that we found on YouTube, we’re not the only ones who’ve noticed the connection.)
Come on, they made an album called The Suburbs, for Chrissakes. And Springsteen covered one of their songs back in 2007, too.
Given Springsteen’s ongoing fascination with the working class and the disenfranchised underbelly of America, he shares more with the world of hip-hop than he might appear to at first glance. If you take away the beats and the tongue-twisting rhymes, plenty of Slim Shady’s material wouldn’t sound out of place being performed by the E Street Band. And hey, it looks like they get along OK, doesn’t it?
The original Springsteen wannabe, bless him — what Springsteen was to New Jersey, Mellencamp was to the Midwest. In fairness, he’s never ducked the Springsteen comparisons, performing “Born in the USA” as a tribute to the Boss when the latter received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009 — and, of course, he’s also written plenty of fine songs in his time. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that his best lines — like “Life goes on/ Long after the thrill of living has gone” from “Jack and Diane” — could have walked straight out of a Springsteen song.
The Gaslight Anthem
If there’s one band apart from The Hold Steady who frequently get cited as Springsteen-alikes, it’s The Gaslight Anthem. The comparisons are pretty obvious — The Gaslight Anthem are from New Jersey, after all, and specialize in the sort of heart-on-sleeve all-American rock that Bruce purveyed with such success during the 1980s. The band themselves have tried to play down the connection — “I could pretend like he’s this amazing, big part of our life, but the connection is something the media came up with,” Alex Rosamilla told The Toronto Star in 2010. “To anyone who thinks we’re copying Bruce Springsteen, I would say, ‘Fuck you.'”
Jon Bon Jovi
The poodle metal version of Bruce! JBJ shares Springsteen’s Jersey roots and fondness for tales of working class disaffection, but dressed them up in spandex and a succession of hairstyles that could only have ever been conceived in the 1980s. Happily, at some point during the 1990s, Bon Jovi realized that the world didn’t need a band that crossed Motley Crue with the Boss, but by then, the damage was well and truly done. (And it’s hard to take romantic blue collar anthems seriously when you’re looking at Richie Sambora’s sex face.)
The problem with ’80s-era Springsteen is that pretty much everyone misunderstood him — the Republican party (who, as we discussed recently, used “Born in the USA” on the campaign trail in 1984, much to Springsteen’s horror), the media (who wanted to cast him as some sort of all-American patriotic hero), and also plenty of the bands who came after. Like The Killers, for instance, who took a delivery of all the Born in the USA-era bombast they could find for Sam’s Town, with none of the subtle undercurrents of discontent that went with it. Result = ughhhhh.
Blame Canada! Blame Canadaaaaaaaaaaaa!
Despite La Gaga’s Upper East Side convent upbringing, she’s apparently just a blue collar rocker at heart. “I’m actually really obsessed with Bruce Springsteen,” she said during a Google-sanctioned interview last year. “My father used to play a lot of Bruce Springsteen records when I was a kid, and he was blue collar America. And in a way, I related to Bruce because I watched my father, a blue collar American citizen, relate to Bruce and I think that in a social way, my fans feel blue collar. They feel like they’re the underdogs that will someday be the winners. And I took the influence of Bruce on my father in my life to create [Born This Way].” Um, yeah. If you say so, Stefani. But given that the whole Gaga character is more about postmodern image creation than reality, we’re regarding this whole thing with suspicion.