Somehow Bruce Springsteen has managed to do what thousands have been trying to do for months with very little success. Without occupying anything, Springsteen has created an album of new material that perfectly captures the sentiment of our times.
Wrecking Ball is the 17th studio album by the man they call ‘The Boss’, and in many ways, it may be his best – or at least his best in the last 25 years. While it’s not a full E Street Band record (members of the legendary band appear on numerous tracks) it’s also not one of his purely solo efforts in the vein of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad. Wrecking Ball is a concoction of folk, rock, roots and soul music blended together with looped drums, choir chants, horns and string instruments to create a protest record that doesn’t sound like a protest record.
Working with producer Ron Aniello, Springsteen juxtaposes his disappointment in the state of the American Dream against upbeat melodies that sound like Celtic drinking songs one might hear at a Gaelic kitchen party. But behind the fiddles and foot stomping there’s an undeniable anger and frustration to Springsteen’s words.
On “Death To My Hometown” he calls out the robber barons, the marauders and the greedy thieves who steamrolled over the main streets and vacant stores he sang about on 1984’s “My Hometown”. On the album’s title track and centrepiece, we’re told repeatedly that ‘hard times come, and hard times go’. In the past Springsteen would have offered some glimmer of hope, ‘a chance to get to that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun’, but on ‘Wrecking Ball’ ‘hard times just come again’.
In 1984 Springsteen perfectly captured post-Vietnam America on “Born In The U.S.A.” and he delivered post-911 hope with 2002’s “The Rising”. In 2012, Wrecking Ball encapsulates the anger and disenfranchisement we saw in make-shift tent cities around the world during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Springsteen doesn’t blame Republicans or Democrats for the turmoil in his homeland, but clearly he feels it’s up to the people to right the ship… ‘wherever this flag’s flown, we take care of our own’ he sings in the lead-off track.
Wrecking Ball is an impressive effort by a man approaching his mid-60’s. Musically, Springsteen is still breaking new ground with the blending of folk, pop and rock sounds to create a neo-protest sound in the tradition of Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan but with the sonic power and pop sensibilities of a Phil Spector record. Lyrically I’m amazed that despite his tremendous success and wealth, Springsteen is able to perfectly capture the spirit of ‘the man on the street’ who is struggling to make ends meet and ready to give up on the American Dream.
Despite the anger, frustration and questions left unanswered on Wrecking Ball, I believe Springsteen still has faith in the promise of America – that hard work eventually pays off. It’s in his blood and it’s in his working-class Jersey sensibilities. It’s evident in the passionate live performances he recently delivered on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and I’m sure the working-class mentality will permeate his live shows every night on his upcoming Wrecking Ball world tour. Essentially he’s saying look at me…I’m 63-years old and I’m still going strong…not giving up and not giving in.
On the special edition version of Wrecking Ball, Springsteen offers two bonus tracks including a re-recorded version of “American Land”, a track he originally recorded as part of “The Seeger Sessions” album in 2006. Placing this track at the end of the album is the perfect way to end the record. It’s not meant to be hopeful and it doesn’t speak to what could be. Rather it looks back about 100 years to a time when people looked across the Atlantic for hope, a future and their freedom. Springsteen is reminding us of the promise America once held and showing us the foundation his country and belief system was and should be founded upon: ‘There’s treasure for the taking, for any hard working man…Who’ll make his home in the American land’.