Meet the New Bosses: Indie Rock Finds Its Inner Bruce

Bruce Springsteen has been one of the world's biggest rock stars for more than three decades now, but he's never been seen as particularly hip. He was part of what the punks were rebelling against in the late '70s, was the ultimate stadium rock act in the '80s, and in the '90s, well, he released "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town." Nothing hip about that.

But with a new century comes new feelings towards Bruce. As "indie rock" continues to take over where "alternative" left off in the '90s, it's clear that Springsteen has come back into favor. Now he's a major influence, but who borrows most from the Boss? We picked five bands -- Canadian collective the Arcade Fire, bar band rockers the Hold Steady, glossy younguns the Killers, critical darling Josh Ritter and dreamy, verbose Bright Eyes (aka Conor Oberst) -- and then cranked up the Springsteen-o-Meter and awarded those bands 1 to 5 points in five self-explanatory categories that capture the quintessential cornerstones of Bossiness. Up to three bonus points were awarded for the possibility of putting one's own derriere on an album cover. Who owes the most to the Boss? Find out after the jump.

The Arcade Fire (Live Review, Album Review)
Huge Band with Huge Racket: 5
Mordecai Brown would have to use some toes to count all the band members and besides the usual (for Canadian bands, that is) bunch of guitars, drums, violas, etc., the band uses an actual hurdy-gurdy.
Stories About the Down and Out: 3
The band is certainly concerned with themes of alienation and disillusionment, but it's usually presented in a grander scale instead of being about a particularly unlucky factory worker.
Growly Voice: 3
Win Butler's yelp is slowly morphing into a growl. Would have scored a 1 after "Funeral" but throughout "Neon Bible" he sounds positively Boss-y.
Left-Leaning Politics: 4
"I don't want to fight in a holy war / I don't want the salesmen knocking at my door / I don't want to live in America no more." And this is from a band based in Montreal.
"Nebraska" Worship: 3
The band hasn't made anything as musically stark, but the general outlook of this year's "Neon Bible" is clearly influenced by Springsteen's stripped-down classic.
Own Backside on Album Cover: 2
Well, those viola girls were wearing hot pants at the May Constitution Hall show...
Total: 20

The Hold Steady (Live Review, Album Review)
Huge Band with Huge Racket: 3
There are only five of them, so you never have three electric guitarists playing the same E chord. But their bar band rock often recalls the E Street band at its most straightforward and the twinkling piano in songs like "Stevie Nix" are straight from the "Thunder Road" playbook.
Stories About the Down and Out: 5
Down and out doesn't even begin to describe the characters that Craig Finn creates. After a listening to "...Almost Killed Me" and "Separation Sunday" back-to-back I feel like I should maybe hit up an AA or NA meeting.
Growly Voice: 4
It's not really growly, but Craig Finn's speedy, nasal delivery is at least a first cousin to Bruce's rumble. The similarities are more in the diction than the tone.
Left-Leaning Politics: 2
Politics rarely make it into the world of the Hold Steady, perhaps because that's not really a concern for characters who are simply trying to find where the next nitrous tank is coming from.
"Nebraska" Worship: 3
Musically there's not too much audible influence, but they score a few points for the endless themes of hopelessness in the Midwest.
Own Backside on Album Cover: 0
If you've seen these guys, you will join me in praying that this never happens.
Total: 17

The Killers (Live Review, Album Review)
Huge Band with Huge Racket: 3
You can't deny the largeness of the sound on last year's "Sam's Town," which was, as admitted by singer Brandon Flowers, a direct attempt to sound like the Boss. They have the big horn sections, but seem overly obsessed with the keyboard sound from "Dancing in the Dark."
Stories About the Down and Out: 3
I'm just going to let J. Freedom handle this one, from his review of "Sam's Town," linked above: "One song, 'Read My Mind,' even sounds like a checklist of images that Flowers picked up while absorbing the Boss's mid-'70s work: The good old days, the honest man, the restless heart, the promised land, the teenage queen, the loaded gun, etc."
Growly Voice: 2
The more Flowers tries to growl, the meeker he sounds.
Left-Leaning Politics: 1
Flowers was not a fan of Green Day's "American Idiot," criticizing it for being excessively anti-American.
"Nebraska" Worship: 1
Flowers admits to only discovering Springsteen's work a short time before making "Sam's Town," and it seems he hasn't worked his way through the discography to this album yet.
Own Backside on Album Cover: 3
It's just shocking that it hasn't happened already.
Total: 13

Josh Ritter (Live Review, Album Review)
Huge Band with Huge Racket: 4
He's slowly working his way up to this, sometimes employing a horn section in addition to his four-piece backing band. Plus, he's been covering "The River" lately.
Stories About the Down and Out: 4
He's from Idaho, so he knows all about the plight of the small town folk.
Growly Voice: 4
He usually sounds more chipper than the Boss, working in a higher register, but "Open Doors" from this year's "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" has the same gritted teeth
Left-Leaning Politics: 3
Ritter won't beat you over the head with it, but a song like "Girl in the War" is the kind of understated political song for people who can handle a little nuance with their Bush-bashing.
"Nebraska" Worship: 5
On recent albums Ritter is moving away from that desolate sound, but it's probably a safe bet that he wore out the grooves on his original vinyl copy of the album.
Own Backside on Album Cover: 1
It would be a major upset, but he was vain enough to include his name in his most recent album title.
Total: 21

Bright Eyes (Live Review, Album Review)
Huge Band with Huge Racket: 3
The current touring group consists of only five musicians, but past lineups have pushed double digits. Probably has more in common musically with the Seeger Sessions band than E Street, though.
Stories About the Down and Out: 2
Plenty of stories about miserable people, but most of the time that person is Oberst himself.
Growly Voice: 2
No growling, just shivering with some occasional yelping.
Left-Leaning Politics: 5
He played with Bruce on the Voters for Change tour in 2004 and played an unreleased song called "When the President Talks to God" when he appeared on Leno.
"Nebraska" Worship: 5
His first recordings were haunting, lonesome acoustic ballads. Plus, dude's actually from Nebraska.
Own Backside on Album Cover: 1
Not going to happen, but if it did, would instantly become the favorite album cover of all time for female sophomore psych majors.
Total: 18

Final Verdict: It was a close one, but Josh Ritter edges out the Arcade Fire for the unofficial title of Sort Of Indie Rockish Person Most Influenced By Bruce Springsteen. In a year that he's received countless accolades, this surely tops the list.

Disagree with these rankings? Think there was another band that should have been included instead? Join in with your own rankings.

By David Malitz |  November 12, 2007; 12:09 PM ET Rankings , Springsteen
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I would have included Philly's Marah over The Killers.

Posted by: 1buj | November 12, 2007 12:44 PM

I was at the Bright Eyes show last night, and Connor said they (the band) were at the Springsteen show before they went on at DAR.

Posted by: _--_ | November 12, 2007 4:37 PM

Oh criminy! "Punk" was a rebellion against the likes of Springsteen?

WTF? Who the hell are you?

Springsteen was a "punk," in the way a classic American working class grease monkey punk was, whose gal friends their parents would never let their daughters go out with openly......That's what "Rosalita" was ALL about.

The American punk was lower class but still hung onto the imagies, work ethics, and mythology of the American dream and supported it regardless of its failures, the English punks of the Sex Pistols and Clash were head beating nihilists.

Do you understand that difference? Springsteen provided hope while the later punks were steeped in hope-lessness.

Any one seeing Bruce in '73-'74, when he arrived on the popular scene dressed with leather jacket and boots, and scraggly beard saw a working class "punk," not an epitome of the middle bourgesis class or laid-back West Coast singer-songwriter that the Sex Pistols, Clash and Elvis Costello rebelled against.

All I can suggest is to go back and listen to "Greetings From Asbury Park" and "The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle," and see what type of lower-working class punk Springsteen actually was.

And that's why we loved him.

Posted by: kuvasz | November 12, 2007 8:14 PM

i guess kuvasz has one reading of the 'punk' statement. the way i read it was that part of the punk rebellion was against big money tours, stadium tours, big production type tours, and the maga advertising that went along with it. in that sense i gotta agree with the original sentiment.

Posted by: Seth | November 13, 2007 11:01 AM

I've been trying really hard, but I still dont see the Arcade Fire/Boss connection.

Hold Steady on the other hand...

Posted by: the cheat | November 13, 2007 12:42 PM

To the cheat, I love Arcade Fire and I love Springsteen but it's impossible to listen to Neon Bible and not hear the Boss's influence (not to mention the YouTube clip of the Win & Regine performing with the Boss.)

Also, I'd like to add the Boss-approved Jesse Malin to the discussion.

Posted by: notorious reg | November 13, 2007 6:45 PM

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