Bruce Springsteen is known as the American artist. Despite all the various singer-songwriters that try to display the frustrations of working class Americans, no one does it like The Boss. And there’s no better time than now for Springsteen to jump full force into the ideas of The American Dream with upcoming election, the occupy movement and everyone starting to feel the pressure of the economic state of America. Wrecking Ball is an album filled with Springsteen putting all his anger into these tracks, while still giving us some really beautiful softer songs in the process.
I was a little worried at first with the first track and single of album, “We Take Care of Our Own” coming with a statement saying that the record would be very different from anything else by Springsteen including “drum loops”. And while “We Take Care of Our Own” and a few other tracks do have loops, they never distract from the music and fit in quite well. Most of them sound like real drums. The track is really just a great Springsteen track that sounds like it could have been on Born In The USA.
“Easy Money” has some steel guitar and fiddle that would have fit in on Devils and Dust. Springsteen’s lyrics about a man and his wife doing whatever kind of odd jobs they can get by, including robbing banks and prostitution. Springsteen’s characters doing what they can to makes ends meet shows up again on “Jack of All Trades”, one of the two tracks to feature Rage Against The Machine’s guitarist Tom Morello. The track starts off with a slow piano and lines about cleaning drains, mowing lawns, fixing cars and farming. The track builds nicely with horns swelling into the mix until it becomes a instrumental fill with a mandolin. Although, when Morello’s solo comes in it sounds a little too forced.
Morello’s guitar work fits in nicely with “This Depression”, a track that’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title. It’s almost too sappy at moments but Springsteen knows how to pull these kind of tracks off, look at his 2008 record Magic. “This Depression” fits in well with Wrecking Ball and is one of Springsteen’s finer slower tracks.
“Shackled And Drawn” is another classic sounding Springsteen track with accordion and even a little Celtic feel going for it. The E Street Band are in full force on this track and the lyrics are great too (“Freedom’s son’s a dirty shirt/The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt”). The track ends with a woman singing “I want everybody to stand up together and be counted tonight!” It sounds like something you might hear at a southern church and that sound of Christianity shows again on “Rocky Ground”. The lyrics are great at times, with Springsteen singing about the biblical flood, Jesus damning “the money changers” in the temple and allusions to shepherds and their flock and there’s nothing quite as uplifting as Springsteen singing “there’s a new day coming”. But then something happens where a rap is brought in after the second chorus. Springsteen has made missteps before (The Rising’s “Worlds Apart” or Working On A Dream’s “Queen of The Supermarket”) but this sounds more out of place than anything else on the record, practically ruining a near great track.
“Death To My Hometown” and the closing track, “We Are Alive” bring in more Celtic folk and country to Wrecking Ball. The E Street Band have shown that they can play this material with their Live In Dublin record, and these original tracks bring in something quite new to Springsteen’s catalog. “Death To My Hometown” has a great sing-along quality to it with it’s pounding drums and gunshots keeping the track going. The lyrics about families and factories being destroyed by the big guys are great. “We Are Alive” is perfectly optimistic, like most of the songs on Working On a Dream. Springsteen sings about Americans who fought to make the country what it is, Americans who died for our freedom and rights (“I was killed in Maryland in 1877/When the railroad workers made their stand”). The E Street Band give out some beautiful harmonies, much as they did on 2009’s “The Last Carnival”.
The E Street Band lost their standout member, Clarence Clemons “Big Man”, last year. And his distinct saxophone shows up twice on the record. “Wrecking Ball” might be the most angry track here, although Springsteen sings to “hold tight to your anger”. It’s a call to arms, a massive track that’s as anthemic as anything on Born To Run.
“Land of Hope and Dreams” starts off with an organ and a gospel singer, before bringing in more voices and a banjo. Then it takes off with guitars and mandolins. Things go back down with just a light drum loop and an acoustic guitar before the track builds back up. Springsteen puts forth his best lyrics of the album sounding like a preacher, even taking some lines from Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and making a track that’s just as powerful. Springsteen puts everything he’s got into the track with the “this train…” segment becoming more and more powerful and then The Big Man comes in making one last final blow through his trumpet. It’s not just a great song, it’s one of Springsteen and The E Street Band’s finest moments, ranking up there with “Jungleland”.
Wrecking Ball is not just the Bruce Springsteen record for the moment, it’s one of the best in his long discography. The great American songwriter has done it again, with just right amount of anger and optimism. Wrecking Ball covered plenty of ground for Springsteen, but still has all the elements that have made his songs so special for so many people.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10.