Bruce Springsteen came out of New Jersey in the early 1970s sounding like a cross between Bob Dylan and early Tom Waits, backed by the rambunctious E Street Band. After toughening up his sound, Springsteen created his 1975 masterpiece, BORN TO RUN, which garnered critical acclaim for its blend of Spectorian grandeur and street poetry. Nine years later, BORN IN THE U.S.A. made him a worldwide superstar with its beefed-up stadium-rock sound. Along the way, he's produced such low-key acoustic-based milestones as NEBRASKA and THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD, never losing the blue-collar ethos that is central to his vision. His 2002 album, THE RISING, is considered one of the finest artistic responses to the 9/11tragedy produced in the event's immediate aftermath.
Vastly expanding 1995's single disc Greatest Hits, The Essential Bruce Springsteen easily surpasses the earlier best-of set by serving up all its true essentials and tossing in less appreciated treats and a full disc of rarities. Disc one spans the first decade of Springsteen's recording career, serving up at least two tracks each from the six albums that laid the groundwork for his '80s burst into superstardom. Disc two picks up with his mainstream breakthrough, 1984's Born in the U.S.A., and carries on through 2002's The Rising, tossing in live recordings of "American Skin" and "Land of Hope and Dreams" for good measure. The selections and sequencing surpass those made on Greatest Hits, though there's not too much in the way of surprises, other than that it appears that Born in the U.S.A. hasn't aged all that well for the Boss; here, he selects only three songs from the hit-laden smash, one fewer than is found on the skimpy Greatest Hits. Disc three is where the fun really starts for all but neophytes. The live "Held Up Without a Gun" is as gutsy a one minute and 20 seconds as Springsteen as one could ask for, and the likes of "Trapped," "Countin' on a Miracle," and a cover of "Viva Las Vegas" rank with his signature songs. --Steven Stolder
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