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(Credit: Kim Metso)


Remembering The National's powerful cover of Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen has released a number of critically acclaimed albums, but the lo-fi Atlantic City might be his most underrated and underappreciated of the lot. It may be because it’s a more pastoral sounding work and compared to the more muscular anthems of the mid-1970s. But it was possibly his most autobiographical work, culminating in a world that paid tribute to the parents that helped him to walk and to stand.

“My father was always transfixed by money,” Springsteen explained. “He used to drive out of town and look at this big white house. It became a kind of touchstone for me. Now, when I dream, sometimes I’m on the outside looking in – and sometimes I’m the man on the inside.” Dreams have led him to this point of his trajectory, and bolstered by the message, the singer created a work that was driven by feeling, as opposed to the force driven by a barrelling drummer from the back of the stage.

And although Atlantic City is one of ‘The Boss’s’ more under-appreciated albums, it does have its fans, not just this writer, as The National created a striking cover of Springsteen’s ‘Mansion On The Hill’. Ohio band The National understood the geography, propensity and diversity of Springsteen’s catalogue, and the finished result is a smokey reimaging of Springsteen’s ode to the steelworkers who grafted his country from the ground up.

The National offer a similar level of grit and imagination in the song that is bolstered by a debt to the song in question. “One of the bits of advice he gave us is that you’ve got to learn to play to the back row,” Aaron Dessner told Hot Press. “He told us – ‘You create a wave and then ride it. When I wrote Born To Run, I had a million fans, and when I wrote Born In The USA, I had 10 million’.”

The songs are among the most incendiary in rock, culminating in a performance-based on bravado, commitment, and most importantly, truth. It was time for another working-class band to espouse the school of thought that James Connolly had spearheaded in his search for egalitarian status. In Britain, Suede and Oasis offered the working classes a voice, a chance to join in the movement.

But in America, it was growing harder and harder to find a voice who could sing out for the proletariats, hungry for success, and eager to work for their debt to society. The National have always been poised to carry on the banner as Marxist rockers, which is why their fan base is so widespread, and why they have so many layers to their work.

They hold intellectual, as well as angular properties in their work, which likely explains why they have been so successful in their efforts to create so much fanfare and fuss, as it almost entirely stems from the place great art rises from, a place of commitment and truth. Lacing the work with padding only works when the backbone is so solid, and The National are rock solid

‘Mansion On The Hill’ is first and foremost a killer song, and although Springsteen’s original recording is the purer version, The National’s rendition is the easier to sit through on first listen.

Better still, the song features one of the most interesting and engaging versions of a Springsteen vocal, remodelled to showcase that the failings of the modern-day movement are much the same as the failings that signalled the change in tone of the 1980s. James Connolly would be proud, but then again, so would Springsteen. Sing it to the back.