Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday With The Boss - Part 17: Wrecking Ball

Springsteen is always good when he's angry.

Make no mistake, Wrecking Ball is an angry record. It's a rather blunt indictment of the environment of greed that led our country into the financial mess we're in right now. He's seeing the hard-working people of America getting swamped under a financial wave that can't be stopped, no matter how hard they work to stay on top of it. The dice are loaded in favor of the haves, who don't seem to give a fig what happens to the have nots.

Politics are politics, a "message" is all well and good, but Springsteen the songwriter is just too damn good to forget the catchy tunes. It's becoming a hallmark of Springsteen's work, the more he's trying to make a point, the more I actually enjoy the songs as songs. The tracks here, especially "Shackled and Drawn" and "Death to My Hometown," are so good at getting your toe tapping, your fist in the air, that you can't help but feel their power as rallying cries.

I always loved the feel of sweat on my shirt
Stand back son and let a man work
Let a man work, is that so wrong
I woke up this morning shackled and drawn

I can also say that, after the detour into a more pop vein with Working on a Dream, Bruce's lyrics have come back to carrying weight. These songs are powerful, lyrically. Even with the "recycled" tracks here, "Wrecking Ball," "Land of Hope and Dreams," and "American Land," there's a renewed vigor to them as they sit in the midst of epic laments like "Jack of all Trades." This is Springsteen back where he belongs, as the chronicler and troubadour of the working class. A working class left behind.

So you use what you’ve got and you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ’em on sight
I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be all right
I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be all right

The surprising part of Wrecking Ball is the musical evolution. Springsteen and producer Ron Aniello have brought in elements like drum loops and samples, and somehow used them to broaden the Springsteen sound. "Rocky Ground" is clearly the most experimental track here, and, while it's not my favorite, I certainly admire the embracing of divergent elements. Vocalist Michelle Moore almost full-out duets on the track, and provides a rap. You can bet there's a certain segment of the Springsteen fanbase livid over this track. Of course, that was my favorite part of Working on a Dream, as well. The exploration of new sounds.Your mileage may vary.

Now, no shells ripped the evening sky
No cities burning down
No army stormed the shores for which we’d die
No dictators were crowned
I awoke on a quiet night, I never heard a sound
The marauders raided in the dark
And brought death to my hometown
They brought death to my hometown

 I'm particularly jazzed about Tom Morello's (Rage Against the Machine) appearance on "Jack of All Trades" and "This Depression." I have loved every collaboration these two men have done together, especially the live version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." Morello provides a appropriate guitar solo on each track, that also is distinctively him. It's lovely work.

We also have what, I would imagine, will be Clarence Clemons' final contribution to the Springsteen legacy, a terrific sax solo on "Land of Hope and Dreams." I found myself very emotional the first few times I listened to it. It's beautiful work, as always from the Big Man, and it does somewhat make the entire track feel like a tribute to him.

Well, I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now
For this part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past

The Special Edition CD also provides two bonus tracks "Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)" and yet another version of "American Land." I love that song, but after closing every show for the last two tours with it, I think I am done.

It's hard to tell where I'd place Wrecking Ball in the later-career Springsteen catalog. (I don't even bother trying to compare these records to the early albums...there's a genius there, a raw, unstoppable burst of musical release, that no artist 30 plus years into a career can match.) It's going to take a few more listens to get a handle on it, but it's got that same fire that The Rising and Magic had. A sense of purpose and drive. I think it's gonna be a keeper.

Favorite Tracks:
Shackled and Drawn
Jack of All Trades
Death to My Hometown
Wrecking Ball
Land of Hope and Dreams


  1. "You can bet there's a certain segment of the Springsteen fanbase livid over this track"

    (raising my hand...but "livid" is probably too strong)

    I don't get it, Mark. Your appreciation from an artistic standpoint, I get...but after my initial listen this morning, I find myself shaking my head, wondering where the Bruce that I love has disappeared to. It seems that "Magic" will be the last real rock-n-roll record from E-Street, and I lament that. I lament that the coda to Clarence's time with the band comes down to a single solo on this new record...almost as if the last 2 records were opportunities wasted.
    I won't begrudge an artist for branching out and trying new things...that's what they're supposed to do. I find that I may not be willing to follow them all the way out to the edges though. Maybe I will feel differently after a couple more listens, but my initial reaction is leaving a sour note in my ear.

  2. I don't really see how you can say Wrecking Ball isn't a Rock and Roll record. "Shackled and Drawn" and "Death to My Hometown" are pretty intensely rocking. As are "We Take Care of Our Own," "Shackled and Drawn," "Wrecking Ball," "Land of Hope and Dreams" and "American Land." I can't wait for "Death to My Hometown" live, personally, because it moves me, it drives me to my feet, and I think it's probably THE classic song here.

    I also hardly think you can lament The Big Man's presence, or lack of, here. Sure, we could've gotten another "Terry's Song" or "The Last Carnival," but I think that Bruce wanted something different for Clarence. Something that showed he'd ALWAYS be part of what was happening. So, he re-recorded a song with a big Clemons solo. I mean, it's not like he can get C to come in an cut a new track.