"Stolen Car", along with a few other songs on The River including the title track and "Wreck on the Highway", mark a new direction in Bruce Springsteen's songwriting. These ballads, imbued with a sense of hopelessness, foreshadow his next album, Nebraska. Like "The River", "Stolen Car" is an inner-directed, psychological song that deals with a failing marriage. The protagonist of "Stolen Car" is driven by his loneliness to car theft, hoping to get caught but fearing to just disappear. Essentially, he wants to get arrested just to prove he exists. Alternatively, "driving a stolen car" can be viewed as a metaphor for living in a false, failed marriage where "getting caught" would require admitting this failure to himself, friends and family. The fear of disappearing into the darkness is really the fear of not "getting caught" and instead spending the rest of his life living a lie, leaving nothing real behind.
The recording uses minimal backing, with soft piano and synthesizer punctuated by tympani-like drums. Springsteen's biographer Dave Marsh wrote that the recording fades away "without a nuance of reluctance. There is nothing more here—just a waste of life and a man brave or stupid enough to watch it trickle away." Bruce Springsteen himself has noted that "Stolen Car" is one of the songs reflecting a shift in his songwriting style, linking The River to Nebraska. He has also stated that the protagonist was the character whose progress he would be following on the Tunnel of Love album, and that he served as the archetype for the male role in future songs Springsteen wrote about men and women.
"Stolen Car" and another song from The River, "Drive All Night", played a key role in setting the tone of the 1997 film Cop Land.
A slow moving song, "Stolen Car" has not been particularly common in concert, with 54 performances in Bruce Springsteen concerts through 2008, with most of those performances having occurred during the 1980–1981 River Tour.
The aggregation of critics' lists at acclaimedmusic.net did not place this song in its list of the top 3000 songs of all time, but rated it as one of the 1980 songs "bubbling under" the top 3000. The song has also been listed as one of the all time great songs in Toby Creswell's "1001 songs" and as one of the 7500 most important songs from 1944 through 2000 by Bruce Pollock.
Read more about this topic: Stolen Car (Bruce Springsteen Song)
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