First Look: New Bruce Springsteen LP

 

“A carnival of living souls moving in solidarity”: Wrecking
Ball, released this week on Columbia
Records, finds the Boss working out some cultural demons both with and without
members of the E Street Band in tow. It also features Clarence Clemons’ final
recordings.

 

By A.D. Amorosi

In the ramp up to his newest album
Wrecking Ball, a loose Bruce
Springsteen got a week dedicated to his ouerve on Jimmy Fallon’s late night
fest
, playing a limber “E Street Shuffle” with The Roots, taking the piss as
younger bandana-covered Boss to Fallon’s Neil Young singing LMFAO songs. I wish
that Springsteen would come out more often, especially on 17th studio album, Wrecking
Ball
. After the death of the Big Man, his longtime sax playing stalwart
Clarence Clemons, and given the weight of our Recession era woes, some light
streaming in to the record’s crevices could’ve added some much need color to
its black and gray tones. It’s not a bleakly dismayed Nebraska by half, but  Wrecking Ball shies from the gentle joyous epiphanies that managed
to sneak through 2007s brilliant Magic and its 2009 follow up Working on a Dream.

 

 

Then again, three years after his
last album, things are tougher all over.

 

 


Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball – 01 – We Take Care Of Our Own by polarbearvsrhino

 

 

Opening with the rugged. rousing “We Take
Care of Our Own” Springsteen coughs up a lung talking about an America – its
government, its maddening crowd – that has overlooked the promise to look after
all its citizens. Meanwhile, crowd of power tie wearing thieves in the temple
appear on the Irish-jiggy-with-it “Death to My Hometown” and the woeful ballad
“Jack of All Trades,” The “My Hometown” that Springsteen first looked at on the
skeptical Born in the U.S.A. has grown wearier, tested by troubles of money
and familial morass,  and cynical.  Nobody wanted to come to his “Hometown” the
first time around because the busy streets and bustling factories had been emptied. This time out, corporate raiders have taken
what was left “and ate the flesh of everything they found,” sure and
beggorrah. On “Trades,” Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello lends
his lost soulful lead guitar line to a Springsteen moan where “the banker
man grows fat, the working man grows thin.” It’s all happened before, and it’ll
happen again, notes Bruce slowly, as if remembering those Hometowns. “This
Depression” acts as truculent ode to the tired and tried, hammering its point
hard that we’re in a troubled time with little hope of getting out. People want
to work and be free on the floppy boot stomp of “Shackled and Drawn.” If
they can’t, they’ll make the “Easy Money” and head out on a crime spree
like the couple that fills this cranky rocker.

 

The above-mentioned lot is a solid klatch of
Springsteen ballads and rockers, no doubt no doubt no doubt. But they come
across, in the towering body of Springsteen Song, as stock stuff, lyrically and
sonically, with a hint of a formulaic license which could used the poetic in
its midst.

 

Though filled with E Street-ers (violinist Soozie
Tyrell and new keyboard player Charles Giordano included) the album – pitched
specifically as a Springsteen record and not “and the E Street Band” –  employs several different drummers than Max
Weinberg (Steve, Jordan, Matt Chamberlain), the aforementioned Morello and
string-ologist Greg Leisz, who previously turned up at Bruce’s side during
2006’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger
Sessions
and the accompanying tour. At the risk of sounding xenophobic, the
album would have benefited from a more unified sonic palate. If that means an all-E-Street
album than so be it. Thankfully this does mean that Clarence Clemons gets a few
last licks in on two tunes here, which additionally means, gratefully, that
Clemons’ final studio appearance wasn’t on a Lady Gaga album. The liner notes
use an excerpt from the eulogy
Springsteen gave at Clemons’ funeral in 2011. “Clarence doesn’t leave the
E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die.”

 

Lest you think there is a problem with
Springsteen’s call for musical diversity, you’re wrong. Wrecking Ball‘s boldest most daring song is “Rocky
Ground,” a spiritual howl with a hippity hoppity lean, a sample of an Alan
Lomax field recording of the Church of God in Christ Congregation in
Clarksdale, Mississippi from 1942 and a righteous and uniquely flowing rap by
gospel chanteuse Michelle Moore.

 

Best song on the album, hands down. Doesn’t sound
trite or like it tried too hard. The lesson here is that if Bruce is going to
walk away from the E Street’s shuffles, he should run far away. While I
wouldn’t want to hear Bruce take on steamy Lupe Fiasco-style loops or crankly
Lil Wayne samples regularly, Springsteen’s appropriation of hip hop ambience
works handily. In that regard, the clipped title tune also takes on the
lightness that I hoped Springsteen might have used more of on Wrecking Ball.

 

Here, grand sultans of swat and statuesque heroes
prepare for their curtain call as the track swells and grows larger with each
strum and drumbeat. “Wrecking Ball,” the song, shows off the hearty hope and
defiant rage that the distracted and disenchanted need in these trying times as
Curt Ramm’s trumpet blares high and hot. “C’mon and take your best shot,
let me see what you got,” the Boss screams. “Bring on your wrecking
ball.”

 

Springsteen is really good at these fuck you numbers. Even when he’s talking
about the dearly departed – the mighty working Mexican immigrants looking for
the “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the empowered souls who made their lives and
causes into their signature on “We are Alive” – you sense the defiance that
makes Springsteen’s protagonists and antagonists (and hence the music behind
them) effortlessly epic and upwardly mobile even in their passing. “Our
souls and spirits rise,” Springsteen sings, as the dead and the living
form a holy union of those bucking the system. 
With that, this “Wrecking Ball” is more about a carnival of living souls
moving in solidarity than a giant iron orb meant to destroy.

 

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