The Boss seeks to end the bickering and reign in the compassion on Wrecking Ball
America has produced some fine, hard-workin’ songwriters—Woody Guthrie, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp—but with the current, ongoing structural damage that has befallen us in the last decade, those musicians (the undead ones forgiven) haven’t quite given voice to the voiceless. Enter: The Boss. Not to say he is better than any of the names mentioned above, but Bruce Springsteen kicks down the door with his new album, Wrecking Ball, giving hard-etched verses and choruses on the state of the union. It could be a new chapter in “A People’s History of the United States,” offering accounts from the barstools, back alleys and parking lots across America as we watch the rich fatten and our own bellies bloat in hunger. It’s a powerful, up-in-the-morning-gon’-take-charge album.
Song one, and first single, “We Take Care Of Our Own,” starts like a cannon blast. A guitar crackles with the beat throughout like bricks crumbling to the earth and Springsteen’s voice drags in the gravel. The imagery focuses on a country losing its footing, unraveling in the face of disaster, but reminds of the compassion found wherever the stars and stripes are blowing in the wind. It’s enough to make the eyes swell with middle-class gratitude.
“Shackled And Drawn” is a working man’s song about finding—sometimes with difficulty—nobility in being tied to hard-work and a job that ails you. It rolls along in a celebratory shuffle finding comfort in lyrics of dread. It fades, then digs deeper into that same theme on “Jack Of All Trades,” an everyman ode to taking whichever job comes and adapting to its demands and techniques. Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine tugs on the verses then explodes with classic rock riffing.
Throughout the album the drums and guitars are rugged and heavy, sounding like the demolition, then reconstruction, of buildings. There are deep detonations throughout the background on “Death To My Hometown” and thick, Bonzo-like drumbeats on “This Depression” and “Easy Money.” Wrecking Ball is Springsteen’s first time working with producer Ron Aniello and includes members and the horn section of The Sessions Band, whom he’s worked with previously, as well as most of the E Street Band. Springsteen looked to experiment with soundscapes and ambient textures. The results come out nicely. It’s hard to criticize a musician for trying something new so far into their career, but the embellishments are subtle enough to keep the old-timers attentive. Even Michelle Moore’s slight rap interjection in the sentimental “Rocky Ground” goes down fairly easy.
The album’s tone pivots midway through the rising-from-the-pew title track. When Springsteen bores the phrase, “Hard times come. Hard times go,” into your skull, past the outer membrane and deep into your subconscious, the rest of the album takes on a gritty uplifting nature. It’s a point of no return. It’s wiping the dirt on your shirt and looking adversity straight in the eye. Shit’s fucked up, so, bring on your wrecking ball. Let’s get this over with and move on. From that point forward the album climbs up the ladder of optimism reaching a high point when the late Clarence Clemons releases his golden dragon sax on “Land Of Hope And Dreams.” It’s a warm tribute to The Big Man who died last year. He also plays on “Wrecking Ball.”
Since 2009’s Working On A Dream a lot has happened in America for the Boss to reflect on: the banks losing their guts, the Occupy Movement, the surging dysfunction of Congress, rising unemployment, Keystone XL, the entire Obama Presidency, and all the while Springsteen has been watching and is none too pleased. Today’s America may be a weird toxic cauldron of disagreement and disappointment; it may be unjust, cruel and sometimes inhumane, but Springsteen wants us, not to band together in hatred against the powers that be, but instead, help each other out like Americans have always done.
Best Tracks: "We Take Care Of Our Own", "Wrecking Ball", "Rocky Ground", "Land Of Hope And Dreams"