When I first heard The Killers‘ irrepressibly catchy and bombastic tune “When You Were Young” the first thing that came to mind was The Boss. Then I read a million Pitchfork–aping mp3 blogs who chimed in with a blasting chorus of Springsteen-fuelled adoration for The Hold Steady. And, recently, our dear old Mile-End orchestra The Arcade Fire have reappeared, this time sans Davids (ie. Bowie and Byrne), but clearly pushing their booming brand of indie rock south of the 49th parallel and deep into classic Springsteen territory – into the deep, rumbling heart of American rock.
Well, it seems I’m not the only kid on the music block who has noticed this surge in “Springsteenism”. Although I have my reservations about offering up the World’s Greatest Band crown (whatever that means) to the Arcade crew, they’ve definitely amped up the heart-on-their-sleeves, ‘Born in the USA’-earnestness of their delivery this time round and they are, I’m sure, making many a flag-waving convert along the way.
Now it’s only a matter of time until we’ll see our Montreal wunderkinds rocking out a live version of ‘No Cars Go’ with red ballcaps stuffed into the back pockets of their jeans, and The Boss himself on backing vocal duty, helping to fill out that big chorus: “Let’s go!”
“Springsteen was once an indie bête noire, but today everyone from the Killers to the great beer-soaked poets the Hold Steady are aping Springsteen’s musical cadences and open-road romanticism. (Even Joanna Newsom is getting into the act: Her forthcoming EP is called Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band.) Of course, the most flaming practitioner of Springsteenism—and U2ism, for that matter—is Arcade Fire. No one can fail to hear the Boss’s hemi-powered drones in the rumble of songs like “Keep the Car Running.” And Arcade Fire cribs not just the big sound but the big heart and big ego—Springsteen- and U2-style uplift, complete with messianic overtones and nary a hint of the distancing irony found in the Hold Steady or the Killers. Neon Bible’s stirring centerpiece, “No Cars Go,” is a cosmic-utopian vision of a realm where, as someone once sang, the streets have no name: “We know a place where no planes go/ We know a place where no ships go…/ Women and children!/ Let’s go!/ Old folks!/ Let’s go!”
There is a strategic logic behind the new rock bombast. Rock long ago ceded the zeitgeist to hip-hop and R & B and pop, which command the radio airwaves, the record sales, and, in the case of rap, the outlaw glamour that once belonged to rock. One of the last things a rocker can do that a rapper or pop diva can’t is make an almighty racket. Hip-hop producers have lately fashioned their own kind of symphonic grandeur, but their brittle digital edifices are no match for the walls of sound a rock band can erect. Even a human storm system like Beyoncé, harnessing the power of a sampled drum army, simply can’t roar like a bunch of weedy white kids armed with distortion pedals and a Marshall stack. In the hip-hop era, a humongous sound may be the best way left for a rock band to get the world to sit up and take notice.”