21. ‘Human Touch’ (1992)
After he disbanded the E Street Band in the late ’80s, Springsteen recorded a pair of albums with Los Angeles studio musicians. This is the lesser of the two records, a stifling and somewhat restrained set of songs detailing his happiness with his new wife Patti Scialfa. His songwriting lost much of the desperation that made his character studies in the ’70s and ’80s so critical to his career. More than that, the record is dull.
20. ‘Lucky Town’ (1992)
The second of two Springsteen albums released simultaneously, Lucky Town at least has better songs than those found on the languid Human Touch. But the L.A. studio musicians do the songs no favors. Nobody here comes close to the primal urgency or tightness of the E Street Band; even the best songs – “Better Days,” “Living Proof” – suffer from the group’s lack of commitment.
21. ‘High Hopes’ (2014)

19. ‘High Hopes’ (2014)
Patched together from castoffs and leftovers from 21st century albums, Springsteen’s 18th sounds rushed and scattered – both firsts in a career for an artist whose meticulous dedication to his records is legendary. Neither producer – Ron Aniello or Brendan O’Brien – is well-suited to the music; their needles-in-the-red approach robs even the best songs here of nuance. Another Springsteen album wouldn’t arrive for five years.

18. ‘Only the Strong Survive’ (2022)
Springsteen’s second covers LP (following 2006’s Pete Seeger collection, We Shall Overcome) mines mostly ’60s and ’70s soul songs from genre heavyweights Diana Ross & the Supremes, the Temptations and Commodores. Springsteen has long been a master at interpreting others’ songs. But it’s the relative obscurities by Frank Wilson and Jerry Butler that stand out in this slight but devoted tribute to the past.

17. ‘Letter to You’ (2020)
After the personal Western Stars, Springsteen got even more intimate in its follow-up the next year, Letter to You, written after his career-summation Broadway show but before the pandemic shut down the world. Letter to You reflects on death and the prospect of growing old; it also resurrects three unreleased songs dating before the release of his debut album in 1973. Thematically, the pieces fit.

16. ‘Working on a Dream’ (2009)
Springsteen has called Working on a Dream the final album of a trilogy including The Rising and Magic. Like those albums, Dream is hopeful at times, partly stemming from the campaign and eventual election of President Barack Obama in 2008. “The Wrestler,” from the 2008 movie of the same name, is included as a bonus track, but it’s a binding agent here. Not bad, but the weakest of Springsteen’s ’00s albums.

14. ‘Wrecking Ball’ (2012)

15. ‘Wrecking Ball’ (2012)
Finally, a studio “Land of Hope and Dreams” (though Live in New York City contains the definitive version) plus others from the vault. Mostly though Wrecking Ball finds its comfort in the familiar. The album featured the last appearance by longtime saxophonist and foil Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011. A political LP by nature, it feels like a benediction as Springsteen entered his fourth decade as a recording artist.

14. ‘Devils & Dust’ (2005)
Another solo acoustic work in the vein of Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, Devils & Dust takes the pulse of America in the mid-’00s. As with The Rising, the ghosts of 9/11 haunt Devils & Dust, whether in the conflicted soldier of the title song or the familial bonds kicked up by loss in “Long Time Comin’.” The solo predecessors get more attention, but there are buried moments here worth uncovering.

13. ‘Western Stars’ (2019)
After a five-year break after 2014’s disappointing High Hopes, Springsteen returned with one of his most personal works, a lush, strings-adorned album that recreates the soft-rock sounds that came out of California in the early ’70s. With nods to classic records by Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb, Western Stars is a grown-up collection of songs about getting old, moving on and fading away.
9. ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ (2006)

12. ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ (2006)
Between the solo acoustic Devils & Dust and the rousing E Street Band record Magic, Springsteen gathered a bunch of friends, including a couple of recent E Streeters, and paid tribute to the folk tradition of Pete Seeger with a collection of cover songs. We Shall Overcome is the loosest record in Springsteen’s discography, a fun and spirited dip into the past that never sounds moldy or nostalgic. A fine detour.
10. ‘Magic’ (2007)

11. ‘Magic’ (2007)
Magic has more in common – thematically, lyrically and musically – with 2002’s The Rising than it does its two immediate predecessors, We Shall Overcome and Devils & Dust. Nostalgia collides with discontentment on Magic, The Rising’s post-9/11 optimism giving way to more harsh realities. This is Springsteen at a new stage: growing up with a price. The American Dream has fallen out of reach.
17. ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’ (1973)

10. ‘Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.’ (1973)
Springsteen’s debut at times is little more than a demo audition, but his clever, Dylan-like wordplay and his raised-on-radio melodies hinted at so much more to come. Early favorites “Blinded by the Light” and “Spirit in the Night” showed more than a promise; they uncovered a singer and songwriter raised on tradition but determined to tear down its constraints. An accomplished debut that grows in stature each year.
11. ‘The Rising’ (2002)

9. ‘The Rising’ (2002)
The Rising arrived at the right time in Springsteen’s career and an even more appropriate place in America’s history. Following the tragedy of 9/11, Springsteen – with the reunited E Street Band for the first time in almost two decades – delivers his strongest and most committed songs in years. The performances were alternately heartbreaking and uplifting, the perfect combination for a nation that was still healing.
15. ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (1995)

8. ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (1995)
Maybe learning a lesson from the dual 1992 detours of Human Touch and Lucky Town, Springsteen abandons a band altogether on his 11th LP, an acoustic protest record that has as much in common with literary works as it does Woody Guthrie’s folk songs. Like Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad is stripped to mostly just Springsteen and his naked guitar; unlike that earlier work, this one finds some hope in the crevices.
1. ‘Tunnel of Love’ (1987)

7. ‘Tunnel of Love’ (1987)
With 1984’s Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen became one of the biggest artists in the world. Its impact changed his life forever and not always for the best. He moved to California from his longtime New Jersey home and married actress Julianne Phillips, a union that soon fell apart. Details are sketched out on Tunnel of Love, an intimate work that reveals the scars and uncertainty masked behind his fame. A quiet gem.
4. ‘The Wild the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle’ (1973)

6. ‘The Wild the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle’ (1973)
Looser and more band-oriented than his debut, Springsteen’s second album is the one where he takes the still-growing E Street Band for a ride and tests their durability. There’s still some Dylan in the air (the nearly 10-minute “New York City Serenade”), but this is where Springsteen begins to shed his influences for his own identity. “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” became a concert staple; the rest add to the legend.
6. ‘The River’ (1980)

5. ‘The River’ (1980)
Regret, restlessness and the draw of chasing dreams run throughout Springsteen’s double-album opus. Picking up where Darkness on the Edge of Town left off, The River’s characters are more beaten down by life but no less eager to cash in for something bigger and better. The sprawl is literary at times, pure rock ‘n’ roll elsewhere. The River was the first Springsteen album to reach No. 1. It wouldn’t be the last.
2. ‘Nebraska’ (1982)

4. ‘Nebraska’ (1982)
Nebraska started life as the next E Street Band album when Bruce Springsteen decided to release his stark acoustic demos as his next LP. Wrapped around the theme of darkness and sin that hides in everyone, Nebraska was most pronounced in its exploration of serial killers, family ghosts and the secrets that are never completely hidden from view. An unexpected treasure that has lost none of its power since its release.
8. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ (1984)

3. ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ (1984)
The album that made Springsteen a worldwide phenomenon was the stadium-filling record he was working his way toward since his debut. Loaded with hits – seven of its singles reached the Top 10 – Born in the U.S.A. is a master songwriter working at the top of his game. Political at its core – the title track and “My Hometown” are bittersweet portraits of forgotten souls – Springsteen’s seventh album is also funny and catchy.
3. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (1978)

2. ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (1978)
Born to Run held up Springsteen as rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest promise, but as he got ready to make his fourth LP, a lawsuit against his manager derailed the songs he was working on. During the interim, when he was prohibited from releasing a new record, he and the E Street Band tracked dozens of songs. The best of them thread the simmering pot of frustration that is Darkness on the Edge of Town. The myth and legend are sealed here.

1. ‘Born to Run’ (1975)
The album that made Bruce Springsteen a star (magazine covers and sold-out concerts were happening all over) takes a creative leap of faith, pushing the artist’s grand Spectorian concepts to their max. The bookends to each LP side (“Thunder Road,” “Backstreets,” “Born to Run” and “Jungleland”) form one of the greatest thematic works in rock history; the imagery is iconic and myth-making. As far as career-making albums go, Born to Run rarely forces itself. Stories and characters unspool in their settings like they’ve always been there. Springsteen, a master storyteller at his most fluent here, finds their voices and, more importantly, his own among shattered hopes and dreams.

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