Went down to see my V.A. man…
Brad Shoup: Is the Boss our Country Music Jesus? He doesn’t get namechecked a whole lot, which I imagine is how he likes it. After all, it’s hard to impact when you’re cast in bronze. For his part, Eric doesn’t see Bruce as much more than a word to invoke. The drummer lays back, which suits Church’s drawn-in high tenor well. If you sped this up, you’d have a fine tune for the square-dance calller.
Josh Langhoff: “Every time I think of you, I always catch my breath” … that’d make a lot more sense, but this song isn’t about that song. “That song” — the one that means freedom, lust, masculinity, tattoos, a Jeep, amateur astronomy, and a girl not wanting Eric to go — seems to be “Born In the USA,” which isn’t necessarily weirder than “Jack and Diane” for Kenny Chesney or “Sweet Home Alabama” for Kid Rock. Guitar sounds and unnamed drummers evoke what they will and who can understand the connections? Eric doesn’t try, just as he avoids forcing his specific reverie onto his listeners, sneaking the name of the song into the second verse. As an audio madeleine, “Born In the USA” would seem incongruous to most people, but “Springsteen” the song doesn’t even have to be about Springsteen, really, or sound like him — he’s just big and mythical enough to fade into the scenery of a song whose real subject is a night when every listener was seventeen.
Iain Mew: Back to songs about songs again, or rather songs about songs and memory, which get to me even more easily. This particular song makes no big moves but Eric is right to have confidence in its quiet power; I don’t even like Springsteen, but when he sings the name like a softly spoken magic spell I am still convinced.
Alfred Soto: It says much about the excellence of Chief that “Homeboy” has thus far been the weakest single. With this and “Drink in My Hand” he’s shooting for the subject of the title song’s consistency in 1985, who, by the way, incarnates so many melodies that turn into memories that Church quietly dropping his last name in the chorus, like a Catholic invoking Mary, is enough.The easy shuffle, piano fills, Church’s oh-oh-oh — it’s premium nostalgia for cornballs and homeboys.
John Seroff: “Springsteen”‘s lo-fi, indie approach makes Church’s pitched, nasal twang even more arresting when he honks his way wistfully onto the track. There’s an ever present danger of nostalgic bathos, but the song is kept aloft by the light touch of rose-tinted lyrics, the gravitas of a Bruce-like piano chord ostinato and a wordless rumble of a coda. It’s an invitation to a very specific memory of youth, a gentle rain followed by a distant thunder.
Anthony Easton: I continue to find it interesting that the nostalgia that chart country is mining is that of a certain kind of 80s rock and roll. This continues that pattern, where the eroticism of flesh is embedded into the eroticism of playing a very certain kind of Springsteen — for someone whose interest in Springsteen is almost entirely about Nebraska, this interest in “Born in the USA” and “Glory Days” as a more authentic madeleine continues to complicate the whole of Nashville’s relationship to Jersey working class desires. I’m not sure it’s the best way of going about things, but it is a consistent way.
Zach Lyon: For a musical institution that derives next to nothing from the guy, commercial country sure namechecks Springsteen more than I’d expect. Which is to say, not at all — The Boss’s roots have always grown more from the soil of Jimmy Soul than George Jones. (NB: From what I’ve heard of his debut [released today!], Kip Moore probably comes closest to “Springsteen-influenced” than anyone else on the radio right now.) But no matter, seeing as this is just Church’s “Tim McGraw” and the allusion itself hardly matters, though you can’t deny the inherent musicality of both “spring” and “steen” in succession. That’s the hook right there: that faint piano, a million sonic miles away from Born to Run but a reference to it all the same, and Church’s nostalgic nasal-croon of the title. The rest fails to make an equal impression, though.
Edward Okulicz: It’s Church’s “Tim McGraw”! Not really, though, and you don’t need any tricks of interpretation or association to enjoy “Springsteen,” because it drips with sounds that feel like fond memories. Its very beat sounds like the way the heart might speed up for a moment when thinking about a former love, I love the “whoa-whoa-whoa” outro and I admire Church’s voice, which throughout Chief reveals itself to be quite versatile — “Country Music Jesus” and “Homeboy” wouldn’t have given you much of an impression he could do such wonderful staring-out-of-a-window-on-a-rainy-evening wistfulness like this, but he’s got more emotional pull here than Bruce has shown in years. And weirdly, to these ears, the song sounds more like Tom Petty.
Jonathan Bogart: If Springsteen, per Greil Marcus, is a ’57 Chevy running on melted-down Crystals records, “Springsteen” is a 2005 Civic running on the fumes of Bruce Hornsby. (Anyway, Greil was wrong. It was the Ronettes.)