Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

written by: March 1, 2012
Release Date: March 6th, 2012


Would the idea of critiquing every Bruce Springsteen record in any publication, print or online, feel necessary if not for Nebraska? Springsteen’s pop legacy is certainly more storied, but Nebraska has found new life as a way for mustachioed fixie riders to hedge their affection for the man or as a genuine reference point for more significant rock artists (Arcade Fire, most predominantly), enough so that people mostly forget it could’ve just as easily been a full E Street Band record.

Nebraska’s resurgence begs the question: what do we want from a modern Springsteen album? Never one to be doggedly experimental, Springsteen’s post-The Rising fare could be graciously referred to as uneven: the poignant Devils & Dust, the limp-wristed and pat Working on a Dream. And while every pandering profile has indicated that “[insert album title] is his angriest yet],” Wrecking Ball at least has the title to support the notion. It certainly isn’t punk, but it’s not Magic levels of tossed-off sameness. Here we have some forays into gospel and roots flourishes, along with a tangible desire to sound immediate.

That immediacy is often punctuated by percussion that’s higher in the mix than anything Springsteen has done since “Born in the USA,” which seems logical after listening to “We Take Care of Our Own,” a modern update on the too-sly-for-politics critique of America. The song makes much more of an effort to make Springsteen seem a troubled plebeian, but at least it’s working on a number of different levels, not just the obvious one. Better is the title track, which takes its time building to a ribald and rousing conclusion. Both tracks, and much of the roots-based fare here addresses the very Springsteenian topic of getting up after being gut-punched. Every victory is temporary (“All our little victories and glories/ Have turned into parking lots”), every loss redeemable (“Hold tight to your anger/Don’t fall to your fears/Bring on your wrecking ball”). “Wrecking Ball” is classic E Street, from the string flairs to the trumpet subbing in for the irreplaceable Big Man (RIP), and while every working man anthem Springsteen manages to turn out these days is coated in faux-authenticity, everything seems a bit more real, more tangible. Springsteen, perhaps, is a man for these times.

For once, however, Wrecking Ball doesn’t settle totally for the classic. “Easy Money” is a roughshod Bonnie & Clyde story, replete with gospel choir backing and a rip torn lead guitar. Villains and the disenfranchised are all over Wrecking Ball, and their presence frequently livens up the proceedings. Nowhere is this more apparent than “Death to My Hometown,” a blustery growl of a war anthem for a bulletless war popping with Irish tinwhistle, a consistent backing vocal and gigantic drums. Everything here seems dirty and real—if you’re listening close enough, you might even hear a little brogue when Springsteen makes his final cannon call against “greedy thieves.”

But in a musical age where artifice has to be over the top or nonexistent, Wrecking Ball fits in about as well as the last four Springsteen albums. For every swirling rager, there are two sadly unenthusiastic toss-offs. “You’ve Got It” reinforces the damnation that Springsteen has lost his ability to write love songs; “Shackled and Drawn” plays far more fake coming after “Easy Money.” The gospel tinges don’t work as well as they should, either. “Rocky Ground” sounds like a b-side from The Rising, and for anger’s sake, we shouldn’t mention “Land of Hope and Dreams.” In the same breath of progress made to update the E Street formula is the sad realization that Springsteen is, at his core, a rock star.

A good foil for Springsteen has always been Paul McCartney. The pop genius is one of the few other songwriters still releasing LPs from their age, and it’s worth noting that McCartney’s new album Kisses on the Bottom, finally seems to have dated him. While that record will, at points, point to Macca’s insignificance to the modern pop charts, it also speaks to his bravery to go his own way. One wouldn’t accuse Springsteen of being a corporate shill, but most of Wrecking Ball indicates that he’s still subsisting on updates of former glories. There’s positives here, to be sure. And unlike most website commenters, we’re not asking for another Nebraska. But instead of pandering to a national depression that seems overworked at best, cloying at worst, The Boss could’ve at least loaded his rifle with a full clip of new bullets.

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball tracklist:

  1. “We Take Care of Our Own”
  2. “Easy Money”
  3. “Shackled and Drawn”
  4. “Jack of All Trades”
  5. “Death to My Hometown”
  6. “This Depression”
  7. “Wrecking Ball”
  8. “You Got It”
  9. “Rocky Ground”
  10. “Land of Hopes and Dreams”
  11. “We Are Alive”