Album Review: Bruce Springsteen – ‘Wrecking Ball’

Posted: 07/03/2012 in Uncategorized

As published on Entertainment.ie on March 6th 2012

2002’s The Rising was born from Bruce Springsteen‘s reflections on the 9/11 atrocities, and now a decade on comes Wrecking Ball, reflective of a different type of disaster to have struck his beloved America. Economic injustice permeates this Springsteen’s 17th album release, his anger at boiling point at the collapse of the American Dream and the effects the actions of a few have had on millions. Ever the storyteller, on Wrecking Ball Springsteen’s emotive character-driven lyrics are at the forefront – tales of the common woman and man, driven to despair by the omnipresent threat of financial ruin. Those unfamiliar with the style of Springsteen may find the notion of a multi-platinum-selling millionaire recording artist empathising with the plight of the working class a bit ridiculous – and in fairness, with lines like “freedom son’s a dirty shirt, the sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt” it’s a valid observation – it’s highly doubtful that The Boss spends his free time working the land in New Jersey. But that’s the beauty of Wrecking Ball – for throughout his illustrious career, Springsteen has never lost sight of the very folk who worship him. He speaks to them. And this time around the message is louder and clearer than ever.

Lead single ‘We Take Of Our Own’ opens Wrecking Ball, a trademark Springsteen stadium rock anthem which will no doubt take on a central role in the setlist of the upcoming tour in support of the album. Interestingly, the E Street Band have taken a backseat this time around – except for intermittent cameos from guitarist Steve Van Zandt, drummer Max Weinberg, and guitarist and ‘Mrs. Springsteen’ Patti Scialfa. The late Clarence Clemons too features, poignantly playing his last saxophone solo on ‘Land of Hopes and Dreams’, a song which is derived from the E Street reunion of 1998. Clemons, a true legend of his craft, is quite frankly irreplaceable – but what a swansong for Springsteen’s long-time friend and collaborator, a seven minute epic vintage rock track modernised with electronic flourishes, and with a gospel twist. Similarly, the stomp-along raucousness of folk anthem ‘Easy Money’ takes an unexpected turn in its latter half as the gospel choir kick in.

So rock merged with gospel – anything else to throw into the mix? Well, the presence of the Sessions Band gives a warm rootsy Americana vibe throughout – ‘Shackled and Drawn’ and ‘Death to my Hometown’ are superb calling-cards in this respect. Perhaps most surprising of all is ‘Rocky Ground’, featuring guest vocals and a rap from Michelle Moore. Yes you read that right, RAP. It’s just so unexpected that is works. Brilliantly. But it’s down-tempo ballad ‘Jack Of All Trades’ that is the standout – a simple arpeggio piano melody gradually builds into a sprawling barrage of strings and brass, with Springsteen’s gruff tones spelling out the simple message which is the crux of this album – “the banking man grows fat, the working man grows thin, it’s all happened before – and it’ll happen again”.

Wrecking Ball is passionate, it’s intense, and it’s a firm reminder that Springsteen as an artist is as relevant as he’s ever been. There are no gimmicks here – you won’t see The Boss calling on the services of Nicki Minaj or L.M.F.A.O to shift albums and tickets – just a heavy truth, delivered via multi-genre-dappling grassroots rock n’ roll.

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