The voice of the nation returns with another release that would shake the foundations of America if anyone actually purchased full albums anymore. Bruce Springsteen’s latest release, Wrecking Ball, is an outcry as much as it is a salute to the great country we live in, America.
It was easy to hear the tone of Wrecking Ball from its first single, “We Take Care of our Own,” an anthem for Americans everywhere saluting our resilience. There is no room for misinterpretation on this one as there was with “Born in the U.S.A.,” which was not about celebrating America but about the people who gave their lives to keep our freedoms. Ronald Regan grossly misused this song during his campaign turning into a modern day National Anthem that never sat well with Springsteen.
On “Easy Money” the vibe of Wrecking Ball kicks in, which is an Irish-folky sound layered with samples to give it a modern feeling. Springsteen has not ventured this far out of the safe-zone since, Tunnel of Love, the follow-up to Born in the U.S.A. This album reminds me a lot of Tunnel of Love conceptually, not lyrically, in that it’s Springsteen combining his sound with a more modern approach to production.
“Shackled and Drawn,” continues the folky vibe telling the story of the blue-collar worker who has no choice but to work hard to earn a dollar, which draws the analogy of being a slave to the almighty dollar.
“Jack of All Trades” tells the tale of the workingman who’s unemployed but does what he can to survive using his skills to keep his family afloat. Despite the melancholy and angry tone there is great optimism that a new age is dawning in America.
“Death to my Hometown” is a battle cry against big business destroying the American economy, which leads in “This Depression” about how the individual needs love to get him through the tough times he is facing, “This is my confession, I need your heart, in this depression, I need your heart.”
The title track, “Wrecking Ball” was born from Springsteen playing the final shows at the Meadowlands. While it’s a salute to the Meadowlands its also about the resilience of America. This is also one the final two tracks that features the late, great Clarence Clemons. It’s easy to hear the E-Street band pouring through on “Wrecking Ball” even though for the recording it only featured a few of the members.
“You’ve Got It” might be an ode to Patty Scialfa sounding like classic-Springsteen from his heyday, a simple love song that lightens a rather heavy record to this point.
Springsteen leverages religious imagery on “Rocky Ground” to paint America’s current state, but again there’s hope. Wrecking Ball started out as a Gospel album that Springsteen completely scraped, but I’m pretty sure this one made it through, as did the concert favorite, “Land of Hope and Dreams.”
“Land of Hope and Dreams” takes on new life on this studio version, it features a piss and vinegar that lacked in the version that Springsteen played on the road to close his shows during the reunion tour that took place in 1999-2000. Clemons puts his signature sax solo on this version as he did so many times live; it’s a great tribute to hear him play with Springsteen one last time. RIP Big Man.
The album closes with “We Are Alive” that opens with crackle of the needle hitting vinyl before giving way to Springsteen’s take on an American classic in the vein of Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” No matter what happens on this earth our spirit always lives on “We Are Alive.” “We are alive, and though our bodies lie alone here in the dark, our souls and spirits rise, to carry the fire and light the spark, to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart, to stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart, we are alive.”
If you purchase the Deluxe Version of Wrecking Ball there are two bonus tracks, “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” and another concert favorite, “American Land.”
It’s understandable why Springsteen left off, “Swallowed Up,” since it doesn’t offer any hope, in fact it’s as depressing as anything from the The Ghost of Tom Joad.
“American Land” was first played during Springsteen’s tour with the Seeger Sessions band and became a regular during the “Land of Hopes and Dreams Tour.” A live version did appear on a special edition of the We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) and Live in Dublin. This is a new studio recording and seems to fit perfectly with Wrecking Ball.
Again, Bruce Springsteen captures the spirit of America in an album of anger and hope for the future. Hope was a theme prevalent on Springsteen’s last release, Working on a Dream, while anger ran rampant on its predecessor, Magic. This time around he found a way to channel both feelings into an amazing release.