Album review: Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball

By Graham Reid

Bruce Springsteen expresses his feelings on the current state of the US with his angriest album to date, writes Graham Reid

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 54th annual Grammy Awards. Photo / AP
Bruce Springsteen performs at the 54th annual Grammy Awards. Photo / AP

By design and sometimes chance, Bruce Springsteen taps the emotional state of the American republic. He has documented the lives of outsiders, the dispossessed, blue collar workers, lost boys and lonely girls, and - when recently linking to Pete Seeger's songs - the spirit of an America battered by the failure of its political and social systems to look after its own.

But Springsteen has rarely made an album as politically direct and angry as Wrecking Ball, the title emblematic of what he sees has happened to his country.

While journalists may address similar issues, Springsteen has a more powerful and universal weapon of communication, music going directly to hearts and minds. And these songs by a roster of musicians are often blunt, accusatory and, despite many being broadly and unapologetically political, non-partisan.

Shackled and Drawn shaves off some of the rollicking public bar spirit of his 2007 Live in Dublin album and has a powerful imperative of folk sentiment ("woke up this morning shackled and drawn") coupled with raw and raucous backing vocals and defiant music.

The similarly conceived Death in my Hometown links back to My Hometown on Born in the USA. But where there were once places imprinted in childhood memory they've now been flattened by developers in a bloodless war without rifles and cannons.

The anthemic opener We Take Care of Our Own links "the shotgun shack to the Superdome" (resonant with post-Katrina images) and raises questions many Americans are asking. "Where's the work that sets my hands and soul free ... where's the promise of sea to shining sea?" he demands while reclaiming his flag from sabre-rattling jingoists.

The anger is equally unfiltered on the mournful piano ballad Jack of All Trades - with lonely trumpet and a funereal pace - where the rootless character will do any work for money but, despite faith that "we'll be alright", recognises this depression "will happen again" and wearily says "if I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight". This is Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps back from Iraq, homeless because of the sub-prime mortgage scandal and feeling betrayed, beaten and bitter.

Springsteen's characters look for home, truth and honesty but too often find corporate raiders, developers tearing down history in pursuit of quick profit, venal bankers and broken spirits.

He offers hope of course (the gospel-infused Rocky Ground, We are Alive) but when sentiment takes over - the lumbering This Depression, the self-retro title track, You've Got It - this makes some missteps.

But throughout he weaves subtle acknowledgments of dissenting American patriots like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash (Ring of Fire on We are Alive) and in places - like the uplifting version of his earlier Land of Hopes and Dreams, now a folk-gospel redemption referencing Curtis Mayfield and with a sax part by the late Clarence Clemons - himself.

Many damn 62-year old Springsteen as a rich man masquerading as blue collar. They will find supporting evidence here for that opinion.

But for most - because there's a universality to this music - the best songs here raise a clenched fist in the face of indifferent, callous or impotent government, and corrupt, self-centred and expedient ideologies close to home. We've witnessed the wrecking ball too.

Stars: 4/5
Verdict: Another political frontrunner for the hearts and minds of the American people

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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