Bruce Springsteen probably hasn’t had to worry about a paycheck since 1975, but the Boss has made a career of paying careful attention to the trials and triumphs of the American working-class, a skill he continues to utilize on his most recent release, “Wrecking Ball.”
On 2002’s “The Rising,” Springsteen and the E Street Band released quite possibly the quintessential artistic response to Sept. 11, 2007’s “Magic” boiled with the atypical rage of President George W. Bush’s second term and 2009’s “Working on a Dream” was a hopeful ode to the dawn of the Obama age.
But in the songs of “Wrecking Ball” hopes have given way to foreclosures, occupations and the ever-vilified one-percent.
Right off the bat, Springsteen attacks the lack of fraternity amongst Americans with “We Take Care of Our Own,” a track that much like “Born in the U.S.A.” no doubt threatens to be used as an anthem by the very politicians it indicts.
The political powerhouses on the top of the democratic ladder are the consistent antagonists of “Wrecking Ball,” and while it may be easy to misconstrue the intentions of songs like “We Take Care of Our Own,” Springsteen is far more direct on other tracks, declaring “If I had me a gun I’d find me the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight,” in “Jack of All Trades” and “I got a Smith & Wesson 38, I got a hellfire burning and I got me a date,” in “Easy Money.”
“Wrecking Ball” is by and large a call to arms, a sentimentality that is largely helped by its folksy channeling of Pete Seeger, whose material Springsteen covered on the tribute album “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” in 2005.
Two of the album’s biggest highlights, “Shackled and Drawn” and “Death to My Hometown,” make the best use of Seeger’s influence, exploding with thudding percussion and the organs, strings and woodwinds of classic Americana.
“Death to My Hometown” serves as something of a spiritual successor to Springsteen’s 1984 hit “My Hometown” and illustrates another notable characteristic of “Wrecking Ball” – the Boss’ drawing back upon older material for new influence.
Most notably, Springsteen has recorded studio versions of several songs he has been playing life for years, some for over a decade. The title track “Wrecking Ball,” was written for in 2009 for the demolition of Giant’s stadium, bonus track “American Land” was written in conjunction with the aforementioned Seeger album and “Land of Hope and Dreams” was first played at shows during Springsteen and the E Street Band’s reunion tour in 1999.
“Land of Hope and Dreams,” will no doubt be near and dear to the hearts of longtime E Street fans as it marks what may be the last recorded E Street material by saxophone player Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, who passed away in June 2011.
The saxophone solo in “Hope and Dreams” is full of the power and excitement the Big Man was known for and serves as a fitting testament to Clemons’ decades-long contribution to the E Street band.
“Wrecking Ball” isn’t nearly the poignant commentary of the times that “The Rising” was and after listening to the brooding political outrage on Springsteen’s latest set of songs it’s hard not to crave the romantic poetics of 1973’s “The Young, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.”
While “Wrecking Ball” as an album may never be labeled a Springsteen essential, a solid handful of songs on the album will surely earn their place as highlights in Springsteen’s immense discography.
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