Review: ‘Wrecking Ball’ by Bruce Springsteen

jason stives looks at Bruce Springsteen’s new album …

In examining Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball, it’s best to eliminate two of the perceived elements that shouldn’t go into listening to it …

1. It’s not an E Street Band album, even though all the band members — including the late Clarence Clemons — are featured on a few tracks.

2. It’s always a shoe-in to ignore the deep political undertones in Springsteen’s work, as it has always been there. The times have just made it far more prevalent. So Wrecking Ball, ultimately, is an anthem album and his most politically driven since Born In The U.S.A., which fuels this blatant declaration: The Boss is back, and he is pretty pissed.

It’s always a great laugh when many assume Springsteen is simply a “Jersey thing,” when in fact the Boss has been the namesake of the working man’s dream for nearly 40 years. Always finding relevance at the most downtrodden of times (except for the ’90s, when he went Hollywood and was replaced by Garth Brooks) Springsteen hits back again for the second time in a decade with an album that speaks for its time bluntly but poetically. Most musicians take the punch out of speaking of modern times by going straight to throat — but Springsteen, as he has for quite awhile, wraps his personal beliefs in his storytelling and subtle calm nature that very rarely is enraged.

In a time when the term “hardship” has taken a different meaning, a bombastic radio rock record is what the world needs, and Wrecking Ball is truly bombastic — but not without a message to be delivered. The album’s opener, “We Take Care of Our Own,” is about as meaningful in its straight and narrow message as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” but comes with an ironic sense of awareness. Indeed, most of the tracks on Wrecking Ball come with the price of knowing the American spirit that Springsteen has always preached are barely breathing, but nevertheless he continues to believe in it in a more proactive stance. “Easy Money” is a different kind of date in the Occupy Wall Street-era, as the Boss sings vividly of telling his girl to come out with him tonight to take back what is rightfully his (presumably money or land, depending on which revenge film you are watching while listening to it).

There is, for the most part, a shocking amount of call-to-arms songs, even if they are for personal gain rather than mass consumption. “Jack Of All Trades,” which glorifies the value of the handy man takes a literal pistol shot in its final moments, with a wailing guest guitar solo from guest Tom Morello and the less-than-rugged line of “If I had me a gun/I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight.” Further up the road — and fittingly that this album is coming out around St. Patrick’s Day — the Celtic march of “Death To My Hometown” whistles proudly, with pipers and drummers to boot.

Anger doesn’t describe Wrecking Ball as a whole because Springsteen is clearly not angry throughout. If Springsteen were constantly pissed off here, he would only be brandishing the labels that most social and political pundits place on him. Instead, we are treated to an array feelings that range from the hopeful coming of the future (“We Are Alive”) to the sudden disillusion of the present’s hardships (“The Depression”). Not all the tracks were written in the moment — “The Land Of Hopes And Dreams” is a relic from the E Street Band’s reunion tour in ’99. but it’s fitting enough for this time period.

If there is anything that is missing here (and it has been in some ways for quite awhile), it’s the painted storytelling that is less personable and more about any one listening. Springsteen has always been wonderful at describing blue-collar workers, but in this day and age, it’s a little harder to define that kind of worker based on those that are growing up less likely to be a mechanic than someone struggling in retail jobs. For this, Springsteen writes from a personal sense he can’t relate to at 62 years old, but one he remembers fondly. The handy man, the revolutionary and the fighter are all audible in these songs, with the album rounded out by a declaration of diversity in a strange and changing country in “American Land,” a song he introduced on tour five years ago that’s a rollicking Irish drinking song.

Wrecking Ball by definition is a dividing line, as it will no doubt see constant criticism from those who don’t believe in perceived patriotic bullshit from a left-wing stance. For others, it will be a long-distance call for hope that sometimes needs to be instilled in those who feel hopeless and confused in the world. If it’s neither of these to some, it in ingrains in our culture that voices like Bruce Springsteen are needed to raise question and discussion — or to at least drink a tall one over.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)