Upon hearing the opening notes of piano and the singer's firm but softly lilting vocal delivery at the beginning of "Springsteen," one would be hard-pressed to identify this as an Eric Church song--especially if the songs you are most familiar with are his most recent singles, country-rockers "Drink In My Hand" and "Homeboy." But it speaks to Church's artistry and confidence that he can come out with a single that is different from anything else we've heard from him, or anything else on country radio for that matter. And for as simple a song as "Springsteen" seems, it comes as a surprise that we haven't heard anything like it before in mainstream country music.
It's a song about life and love, particularly the good times both seem to offer in that innocent span of years in high school. It of course references (rather cleverly, I might add) several of The Boss' most beloved songs, but even if you aren't familiar with any of them, it's a song that has the ability to take you back. Additionally, as with any song worth a listen (much less extensive radio play) that is able to conjure up such heartfelt emotional nostalgia, "Springsteen" is tinged with a touch of the melancholic. On the one hand, it makes you feel good because it's a song easily associated with good memories: first loves, illegal beer-drinking, feeling like king of the road when first obtaining your driver's license. On the other hand, there is a sadness in the fact that the unworried and unhurried days of our youth, and the way we felt back then, have all but disappeared. In a way, "Springsteen" is a song about disappointment with the real world and holding out hope of finding something to latch on to that can make it not so often feel like such a letdown.
Lyrically, the rhyming scheme Church employs is just right: not too simple and not too complex (much like the song itself, making its universal appeal that much greater), and perfectly matching the song's feeling. My favorite line is:
Baby is it Spring or is it Summer?
The guitar sound or or the beat of that drummer
You hear sometimes late at night
On your radio
There are several rhymes throughout the song that are just as pleasing to the ear. It is terribly easy to sing along with. It's the beat of the drummer that drives this song, though, producing a marvelous and crisp sound (especially with the snare), which is the case throughout Chief, the album from which this single comes. Nowadays it is a pleasant and welcome surprise to hear a song on the radio that has not been to over-compression hell and back.
As mentioned earlier, "Springsteen" is a song that doesn't seem to fit Eric Church's badass country-rocker persona (which he, I will admit, has helped to propagate). But a quick read or listen-to of a number of interviews Church has given shows him to obviously be intelligent and well-versed in country music's traditions as well as the state of country music today. He also comes off as likeable and seems to have his priorities in line, both involving music and otherwise. Taking all of that into account, as well listening to other songs throughout his discography which display a softer, more introspective side, "Springsteen" doesn't seem like too far of a stretch.
Ultimately, it is a song about the power of music. "To this day when I hear that song..."; "Funny how a melody sounds like a memory"; and "...like the soundtrack to a July Saturday night" are just a few musical references included, not to mention the very obvious fact that the song is named after one of the living legends in music today. Music of all kinds has been a powerful force in my life since as early as I can remember. Even songs that don't try to, no matter if you have or haven't heard them before, have that uncanny ability to transport you to a specific moment in time, to a happening in your life that might have otherwise been pushed back to the recesses of your mind.
"Springsteen" is a glorious testament to the fact that Eric Church understands music to be a powerful and emotional force rather than a commercial and formulaic one. In the musical atmosphere of country radio, such an understanding feels like a minor miracle. With Church, music's power is more than just lip service, and with "Springsteen," he does a service to fans of music everywhere, helping us to understand that though we are struggling human beings living in an insane and real world, music has the power to keep us young in spirit and at heart, which may just--in the long run--not only help us to find our way, but help us to survive.
Funny how a melody sounds like a memory, indeed.
Update (11/3): Eric Church's album Chief, from which "Springsteen" was released, won a well-deserved CMA for Album of the Year a couple nights ago. You can read my thoughts on the 2012 CMA ceremony and spectacle by clicking here.