“It’s all happened before, and it’ll happen again”. On Wrecking Ball, the 17th album of Bruce Springsteen’s illustrious career, he assumes many roles and draws many illusions, but none is more timely or profound than that of the weary old head. Charged with being the voice of the American working class, and facing a recession that has left millions unemployed and homeless, The Boss has stumbled upon the kind of deftly poignant message that only one of rock’s elder statesmen can deliver. “Hard times come, and hard times go, just to come again”.
Springsteen finds plenty of room to vent populist frustration, but at Wrecking Ball’s core is a head down and endure spirit. On the sensational waltzing piano ballad “Jack Of All Trades”, Springsteen’s pity lies not with the put upon workingman doing everything he can to get by (“I’m A Jack Of All Trades, We’ll Be Alright"), but with a collective culture consumed with greed and fundamental selfishness. It’s a theme that recurs on bristling album opener “We Take Care Of Our Own” a wonderful ironic take on a callous and detached society.
This isn’t Springsteen’s first recession or economic crisis, and he lays out his manifesto with crystal clarity on the phenomenal rallying cry record “Wrecking Ball”. To put it plainly, shit runs down hill, lives will be changed immeasurably from above, and the invisible hand will take everything away just as readily as it will reward and give out. So Springsteen, on his most impassioned anthem for a decade, tells everyone to grit their teeth and scream “bring it on”, because boom and bust is here to stay – it cannot be escaped.
Elsewhere Springsteen is less effective, as the enjoyable but insubstantial faux-Irish folk jaunts “Easy Money” and “Shackled And Drawn” sit alongside the more cleverly constructed “Death To My Hometown”. Springsteen coyly plays upon his cornier traits, employing a marching beat intentionally reminiscent of the War of Independence to underpin a narrative about a society ravaged without a single shot being fired. It’s cute, and oddly affecting.
Without sacrificing the tone of an album full of resentment, desperation, and grit, Springsteen finds room for a charming throwaway rock’n’roller in the form of “You’ve Got It”. Bizarrely, for an album full of moral grandstanding and righteous rage, a message as straightforward as “reckless love is precious so don’t waste it” feels infinitely more resonant than any talk of fat bankers and loaded guns.
Wrecking Ball may be eminently well judged but The Boss still manages to over step the mark. After successfully pulling off a rock/gospel/rap hybrid (“Rocky Ground”) Springsteen crashes and burns on the abysmal and utterly unnecessary album closer “We Are Alive”. It’s as ham-fisted and cringe inducing as its title, but sadly, nowhere near as short.
On an album loaded with violins, bassoons, steel guitars and gospel choirs some embarrassing indulgences were always to be expected, but more often than not Springsteen strikes the right chord. Somewhere between the banker bashing and the fist-pumping-feel-good smultz Springsteen stumbles upon a message that no other artist has proved capable of articulating. Expect to be let down, this recession will end eventually, but in time another will come. So hold on, and more importantly hold on to one another, because a world where we “Take Care Of Own”at the expense of everyone else is doomed to crash a burn.
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