Bruce Springsteen – ‘Wrecking Ball’

The Boss returns, 17 albums in and more passionate than ever

From the ‘Born To Run’ glockenspiel chimes to its easily-misinterpreted-as-patriotic sentiment, the lead-off track from Springsteen’s 17th album – a song called ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ – suggests familiar ground lies ahead. Furthermore, another of its songs – the epic ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ – was first played live in ’99, and features imagery of “thunder rollin’ down the track”. So far, so Bruce.

But then, if ever America needed a fired-up Boss doing what he does best – in his words, “measuring the distance between the American Dream and American reality” – it’s in 2012. And boy oh boy, is Bruce Springsteen fired up. Three years ago now, he claimed to have written his first ever song “about a guy that wears a tie”. Turns out it was not his last: with the scene set by the single (“The road of good intentions/Has gone dry as a bone”), we get a quartet of tunes, in swift succession, that lambast “fat cats” (‘Easy Money’); talk about the goings-on “up on banker’s hill” (‘Shackled And Drawn’); rage that “the banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin” (‘Jack Of All Trades’ featuring Tom bloody Morello on guest guitar); and then sneer at “greedy thieves who came around/And ate the flesh of everything they found” (‘Death To My Hometown’).

More explicitly still, track six is titled ‘This Depression’. Make no mistake, this is an album that is political with a capital P. Musically, meanwhile, the supposed hip-hop influence has been overstated. ‘Rocky Ground’ may feature a semi-rap from Michelle Moore, but sonically its beats’n’synth are not doing anything ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ didn’t do back in ’94. Much more prevalent is the folk music that Bruce tackled himself on 2006’s ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’. It’s a sound that utilises only minimal, organic instrumentation, but is more direct and in-yer-face than any wall of electric guitars could ever be. That said, anyone seeking more straight ahead E-Street anthemia will be well served by the aforementioned ‘Land Of Hope And Dreams’ and the title track – both of which feature saxophone solos from the late Clarence Clemons, and serve as fitting epitaphs.

Two modern music journalist clichés are: 1) asking why it is that only the old guard seem compelled to write songs about Our Times; and 2) questioning if a stadium-filling millionaire rock star can really document the lives of The People. Both are probably pertinent to this album. But when you’re listening to a closing song entitled ‘We Are Alive’, and Springsteen is imploring the world “to stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart”, you’re not thinking about an answer to either. And that, more than anything else, is what makes ‘Wrecking Ball’ a triumph.

Hamish MacBain

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