"The time are tough now, just getting tougher" begins Springsteen on "Cover Me," the second track of Born in the USA. It sounds like a statement more apt for the '10s than the '80s which, after all, was the decade of excess. But despite the public's interest in Wall Street portfolios and shows like Dynasty, Springsteen kept the fire burning for the everyday working man, making the themes of class struggle his bread and butter. Compared to his previous work, Born in the USA takes a lighter approach musically even as it adheres to his typically gritty themes. Thus you get "Born in the USA," a defiant-sounding slice of synth-scored pop rock that has been (often inappropriately) appropriated by political campaigns that hear the song's refrain and think "patriotism" while missing its bitter message about the illusion of the American dream.
While social commentary creeps through many of its songs, so does the pursuit of romance, through which he finds success on "Cover Me," but ends up in the slammer at the end of the lively "Working on the Highway." Springsteen infuses a lot of sex appeal in his songs too, whether its the edgy romanticism of downbeat "I'm on Fire" or the propulsive vitality of "Dancing the Dark," the song that became the singer's biggest hit. Romance of a different sort combines with social commentary on "My Hometown," which chronicles the plight of a small town in decline while balancing the economic desire to leave with the nostalgic desire to stay.
I wouldn't generally consider myself a big Springsteen fan, although I am somewhat familiar with his more recent albums. That said, I really like Born in the USA, and its whetted my appetite to hear more of his earlier work. I appreciate that it managed to appeal both to the masses and the music critics--something few albums seem to do these days. That it scored a very impressive seven top 10 hits (a feat managed by only two other albums ever), makes it all the more notable, especially since he'd had only one top 10 hit prior.
Best: Dancing in the Dark, Born in the USA, I'm on Fire, Cover Me, Glory Days, My Hometown