Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Bruce Springsteen: The River [Columbia, 1980]
All the standard objections apply. His beat is still clunky, his singing overwrought, his sense of significance shot through with Mazola Oil. He's too white and too male, though he's decent enough to wish he weren't; too unanalytic and fatalistic, though his eye is sharp as can be. Yet by continuing to root his writing in the small victories and large compromises of ordinary joes and janies whose need to understand as well as celebrate is as restless as his own, he's grown into a bitter empathy. These are the wages of young romantic love among those who get paid by the hour, and even if he's only giving forth with so many short fast ones because the circles of frustration and escape seem tighter now, the condensed songcraft makes this double album a model of condensation--upbeat enough for a revery there, he elaborates a myth about the fate of the guys he grew up with that hits a lot of people where they live. A-