One Sunday afternoon you go about rummaging through your attic, looking for items to donate to a local rescue mission…..and suddenly you find yourself re-acquainted with a bedroom poster depicting your favorite artist growing up, lightly caked in dust. At that very moment you let out a bittersweet sigh, and fondly stare into space as you reminisce of an early flame that came and went in your life, while that artist contributes the soundtrack to your saudade.
Which brings us to “Springsteen”: the third single from Eric Church’s breakout album Chief and follow-up to his first-ever chart-topping single “Drink In My Hand”.
Predictably, the track is another in a growing line of songs that purposefully references the name of another established artist or hit song (such as “Tim McGraw” and “All Summer Long”) for the purpose of reminiscing on a treasured memory, and is also heavy on references to some of the most definitive hits of that artist’s career (i.e. “I’m On Fire”, “Born to Run”, “Glory Days”, “Born in the USA”). On the surface, it appears little worth examining.
I invite you to gaze a little deeper.
“Springsteen” is every bit as semi-melancholy as it is a fond glimpse back at the past, with a gravity of shimmering sadness driving its production that is most closely tied to the Boss’s 1987 tortured-heart testimonial “Tunnel of Love”. Steered by a drum machine, and besprinkled with misty-eyed synthesizers and chatoyant glints of keyboard, “Springsteen” is without question far-removed from decidedly country soundscapes, but more resembles the sound of one of the Boss’s lesser-known releases, “Tougher Than The Rest”, albeit softer around the edges.
Church also channels Springsteen’s spoken-word style of singing here, with an understated, pensive and reflective vocal delivery in the verses that leaves you believing he is re-evaluating his slate of memory as he is speaking. The first verse, which sets the scene in reminiscing on a now seemingly distant world “somewhere between that setting sun, ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Born to Run’”, poignantly ends with the last line: “I can still hear the sound of you sayin’ don’t go…”
After a decidedly carefree, warm first verse overall, this last line before the first chorus sets the stage to the remaining direction of the track. Church sings the first chorus as though, upon looking back on the amplitude of the memory and suddenly feeling the sting of saudade, he feels the impetus to belt off his chest exactly what he sees in his mind’s eye when he thinks of that former flame: a seventeen-year old self gazing at the stars on a July Saturday night.
The second verse begins with an equal sort of urgency, where he croons:
“I bumped into you by happenstance,
you probably wouldn’t even know who I am,
but if I whispered your name,
I bet there’d still be a spark…”
He goes on to suggest that he used to be gasoline, admitting that those were the “glory days” and, thus, nothing he has experienced since then has quite compared to them. That doesn’t necessarily suggest or prove, straight up, that the protagonist is unhappy in the present by any stretch. But I do find it telling that he’d use the metaphor of “gasoline” within the second verse, as though he is admitting there’s a sort of vitality which that memory is teeming to the brim with that he has never quite been able to replicate……going so far as to wonder if, perhaps, there’s still time to give it another shot with her. That is, if she still thinks of him.
Does she still fondly regard him? There is slight reason to believe she does, as evinced in the coda, where Church’s propulsive “Whoa whoa, oh oh oh!” softly evokes a call-and-response effect, mimicked by an unknown female voice. Is the voice indeed that of his former lover? Or is it the murmuring of a muse? It could well be interpreted as either.
These emotionally ambiguous nuances, and the burst-of-sunlight-piercing-through-the-clouds production, are what elevate what could otherwise have been a paint-by-numbers ode to young love to a whole other level. You can practically imagine Church standing there outside her house on a Saturday night, holding onto the faintest hope she’s been watching him too as she’s dressed up in blue……….praying she’ll say yes to another dance. And you’re rooting for a happy ending, yet also feel a chill going up your spine fearing his effort will be met in vain: finding his star-crossed self pacing one step forward, two steps back.
“Springsteen” is a gorgeous, bittersweet anthem-to-be that will likely leave even some more hardened hearts simultaneously smile and cry listening. As Church’s best single to date, it will all but certainly take his career to the next level, even as he’s already selling out venues left and right at the dawn of his “Blood, Sweat & Beers” tour as we speak.
Come on, Eric. There’s no foolin’ us that you’re any more tougher than the rest of us, behind that brilliant discount shaded disguise. Lift them up from over your eyes and show us your tears. Atta boy, Chief!
Written by Eric Church, Jeff Hyde, and Ryan Tyndell