Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball”

Still The Boss
By Matt Jones

Maybe you’re a lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen and/or the E Street Band. Or, maybe you’re not huge on Bruce. It’s possible you really like a lot of Springsteen songs but didn’t actually know they were Springsteen songs. Maybe, if you’re like me, you’ve heard Springsteen your whole life but nothing’s ever really connected for you. If you’ve been to a lot of Hillary Clinton rallies recently, you might have “The Rising” permanently engraved into your echoic memory.

Regardless of the unique little spot that Springsteen holds in your heart, it’s difficult to deny the extent of his incredible legacy. His is one that for all practical purposes began in the mid 1970s and is still just as relevant and powerful today as it probably was back then (okay, I’m 23, I wasn’t born yet). If Estelle is the “Fonzie of female rappers,” then Springsteen is the Derek Jeter of American songwriters — an ageless, impossibly reliable model of consistency. Please remove Jeter’s 2010 season from consideration for this analogy to work. Springsteen’s timeless value as an American songwriter and musician is paralleled by few others, and you would be remiss not to consider his name in the same realm as Cohen, Dylan, and Guthrie.

It’s the rare ability to effortlessly deliver relevant material without turning the formula on its head — just being able to adapt it to the times — that makes Springsteen one of the all-time greats. And it doesn’t hurt that Springsteen’s material caters strongly to American everymen either. Springsteen has always sung about America, for America, all while distancing himself from Toby Keith’s obnoxious jingoism that makes people hate us. John Mellencamp was pretty good at this too.

The Obnoxious Jingoism Continuum, brought to you by MS Paint

Overtly, Springsteen’s political attitudes have typically been the lens through which he writes songs, rather than explicitly the subject matter, and this is as true as ever with Wrecking Ball. This is a collection of emotional songs that express some clear frustrations with the state of our country now, but also some optimism that with some introspection and effort, we can return to our ideals. The pulse of the album is driven by a few themes — corporate greed and the resulting victimization of the working class, America as (ideally) a land of opportunity for all, and the need to have each others’ backs in hard times.

The album kicks off with its first single, “We Take Care Of Our Own,” whose message is clear and whose craftsmanship screams “classic Bruce”. From here, songs weave through different points of view, most commonly through the clenched jaw and fought-back tears of working Americans just trying to survive tough times (“Jack Of All Trades,” “Death To My Hometown,” “This Depression,” “Wrecking Ball”).

“Easy Money” features a catchy hook set to a stomp-and-handclap-driven beat that resurfaces throughout the album, and is sung from the point of view of the perpetrator rather than the victim. “Shackled And Drawn” injects John Denver into the recession, “Jack Of All Trades” slows things down to nice effect, and previously mentioned “Hometown” gives a wizened heartland-Americana perspective to Occupy-inspired anthems in ways that Third Eye Blind’s “If There Ever Was A Time” just couldn’t. Springsteen’s ability to infuse each song’s character with a poignant mixture of anger, bitterness, and/or sadness makes it easy to sympathize with all of them, and gives the album the breath of a chorus of voices crying out that We Can All Do Better. The powerful crescendo in the album’s title track reinforces the motivation of Bruce’s subjects to keep fighting; to stand strong in the destructive winds of the recession and fight for their lives and the lives of their families.

It’s a powerful album, and it ends with two bonus tracks including immigrant jaunt “American Land,” which is one extra notch of guitar distortion and a Dave King guest appearance away from being a Flogging Molly song. Don’t let the cheery tune deceive you, though – like most of the album, it accompanies highly critical subtext, and sometimes just text (“The hands that built the country / we’re always trying to keep out”).

The production is quite slick on Wrecking Ball and there are occasional electronic nuances you might not expect from a Bruce album, but overall it’s not a huge stylistic deviation; as with the lyrical content, the sound is simply adapted to the times, and the trademark Telecaster jangle hasn’t gone anywhere. Thematically, it might be a modern-day protest classic, but its reliance on relatable characters to carry its message keeps it from being expressly political. Springsteen is a great storyteller and Wrecking Ball is a great album about people who are fictional but also extremely real. It’s both an enjoyable surface listen and one that gets better with time; Bruce is still The Boss, and Wrecking Ball is another strong addition to his legacy.

Matt’s Picks:
(1) “We Take Care Of Our Own”
(2) “Easy Money”
(5) “Death To My Hometown”
(7) “Wrecking Ball”
(10) “Land Of Hope And Dreams”
(13) “American Land”

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About mattneric

We like music.
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20 Responses to Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball”

  1. Thom Topham says:

    Excellent writing and critique Matt. My music/voice has sometimes been compared to Spingsteen’s. I was at his first-ever London show in the 70s, and it was a total triumph. Wanna check me out? You could either read my autBLOGography (7 chapters and nearly 60,000 words so far) and click the hyperlinks to the songs, or simply listen to them and/or download them at http://www.reverbnation.com/thomtopham (there are free downloads for people who ‘fan’ me too). Thom.

  2. Kyle says:

    My favorite part is when he pretends to be poor.

    • mattneric says:

      Hey Kyle, thanks for commenting. I think it’s pretty great that Bruce is able to use his platform as a well-known recording artist to give a voice to the working class that can be heard by many.

      Besides, I think his extremely humble upbringing might give him more credibility on “being poor” than you’re implying 🙂

  3. jmc08 says:

    Good review! Glad I came across your site! If I gave scores on albums, I’d say this is a 7.5/10. You highlighted the best songs at the end of your article, however, I might say you missed “Jack of all trades” which is my fave (Although, I’m a sucker for a classic Springsteen rant). You nailed it with saying Bruce is a good storyteller and that he does speak to our times! Classic BOSS! Glad he still cares about the music and isn’t just “calling it in” at this point in his career!

    • mattneric says:

      Thanks for commenting! I think “Jack” has grown on me even more since I wrote this; definitely a nice track with powerful words. I can’t say I was much of a Bruce fan until this album, but this might have done it for me 🙂

  4. catchgroove says:

    Well thought out review. It is great to see a legacy artist still at the top of his career late in the game (however given the great shape the Boss is in he could be the first rocking centenarian.

  5. Typehype says:

    Thank you for this great review. This is a very affecting album. Listening to these songs makes me feel patriotic — something I haven’t felt in ages. I like especially this part: “Springsteen’s ability to infuse each song’s character with a poignant mixture of anger, bitterness, and/or sadness makes it easy to sympathize with all of them, and gives the album the breath of a chorus of voices crying out that We Can All Do Better.” A lot of insight in those words. Hey Kyle, those of us who come from humbler circumstances will never forget what that feels like. No matter how much money we may make later on in life, an underlying feeling of poverty always haunts you. You empathize with those less fortunate. You help out in the best way you know how. Springsteen accomplishes this through his art. And he lifts our spirits. My thanks go out to him for NOT pretending otherwise, for richer or poorer.

  6. Steve Wiggins says:

    Excellent, Matt! I’ve got the album, now all I need is the time to listen to it. I’m a long-time Bruce fan, and I expect this album to be as inspiring as the rest. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  7. TMatt says:

    “Derek Jeter of American songwriters — an ageless, impossibly reliable model of consistency” Perfect analogy and great review.

    http://weeklydownload.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/weekly-download-vol-iii-no-20/

  8. I enjoyed your review, however, as a life long Boss fan, I will have to disagree with your sentiment that the record is not a huge stylistic change from his previous work. Wrecking Ball is by far his most experimental record yet. He dabbles in a lot of hip-hop (be it beats or bars) and worldly sounds that makes this record unique among the rest.

    Wrecking Ball is Bruce Springsteen’s best album since Born In The U.S.A.

  9. Anyone know where I can get a Springsteen Wrecking ball download? Not a mediafire, torrent or wupload link – I mean if there’s a legit MP3 digital download place like iTunes or so. I can’t figure out if it has leaked or has been officially released.

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  12. Michael says:

    Good review. I caught a couple of the live shows when he came over to England, he’s definitely not lost anything onstage.

    One of many hihglights of the shows I saw; on the last line of Jack of All Trades (“If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot them on sight”) the entire stadium erupted into applause.

    • mattneric says:

      Powerful stuff. I actually caught him in New Orleans for Jazz Fest earlier this year, and completely agree – he’s as energetic as ever on stage. Loved the crowd interaction.

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