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Published: 2012/03/14
by Sam Robertson

Bruce Springsteen
Wrecking Ball

Columbia

Bruce Springsteen’s new album Wrecking Ball may be a solo album, but album opener “We Take Care Of Our Own” is full of pounding drums, layered riffs and a fist-pumping chorus, sounding just like an E Street Band classic. But of course there is something missing. Wrecking Ball is Springsteen’s first studio effort without his lifelong sidekick, saxophonist Clarence Clemons. And, as you might expect, Springsteen’s music just isn’t the same without Clarence’s horn leading the way. After all, how do you replace the man who Springsteen regularly introduced to crowds as “the biggest man in the world?”

But despite the fact that album opener “We Take Care Of Our Own” sounds like vintage E Street Band rock and roll, none of the core members of the E Street Band even appear on the track. Springsteen chooses to replace Clemons by straying away from the E Street Band and their distinctive style with one of his most musically experimental and ambitious albums. Perhaps in an attempt to distract the listener from the gaping hole where Clemons’ bursting saxophone belongs, Wrecking Ball leans closer to rootsy Americana and gospel than the grand rock and roll of the E Street Band.

The album’s second song “Easy Money” finds Springsteen’s studio experimentations begin – as the song sounds like a combination of the E Street Band and Springsteen’s bluegrass Seeger Sessions band joined by a gospel choir, and mixes moaning fiddle with an electric guitar solo. There are plenty more musical experimentations on the album – including an embrace of hip hop on “Rocky Ground” – an adventure that is just as awkwardly bizarre as you might imagine it to be. But aside from the sudden twist in musical direction on “Rocky Ground,” Wrecking Ball still sounds like a Bruce Springsteen album, just a little more colorful than usual. From bluegrass-tinged lonesome country to Irish folksongs and mournful ballads, Wrecking Ball finds Springsteen experimenting and succeeding with new styles.

Despite making more than a small fortune over the course of his career, Springsteen has never forgotten his own working class roots and the years he spent toiling in New Jersey’s tiny clubs before breaking through to commercial success. Much like his stark Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad albums, Wrecking Ball is full of stories of working class Americans and their troubles. “We Take Care of Our Own” quickly brings to mind “Born In The U.S.A.” as it is a biting criticism of the American government disguised by a patriotic chorus. With lines like “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” “We Take Care of Our Own” opens the album with Springsteen questioning the American Dream and whether the government has fulfilled its responsibilities to its people.

Those themes are central throughout Wrecking Ball, an album inspired by Occupy Wall Street that finds Springsteen voicing his concern over the direction of this country and our future. He sings about “fat cats” in “Easy Money” and the haunting “Jack Of All Trades” features lines like “A banker man grows fat, a working man grows thin/It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again.” The standout song culminates with Springsteen declaring “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight,” before Tom Morello of Rage Against contributes a soaring guitar solo, making for one of the album’s most politically charged moments.

But the true highlight of the album is a dose of old fashioned E Street Band rock and roll on “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” where that sound you’ve been waiting for finally arrives. After a soulful gospel choir backs Springsteen as he pays tribute to Woody Guthrie’s “This Train Is Bound For Glory,” the unmistakable sound of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone leaps in above the roar of the band with a moving solo as Springsteen sings about “bells of freedom ringing.” Only someone like Clemons’ could make his last recorded appearance such a majestic one, and his horn has never sounded better.

Up until “Land Of Hope And Dreams,” Wrecking Ball, full of ruminations on hard times, finds Springsteen downtrodden and angry. But he takes a sudden turn towards optimism on “Land Of Hope And Dreams.” “We Are Alive,” a tribute to fallen heroic protestors, follows “Land Of Hope And Dreams” and the pair ends the album on an ultimately hopeful and inspiring note. After all, this is the same man who once proclaimed “It ain’t no sin to be alive” in a song about being “caught in a crossfire that I don’t understand.” With Wrecking Ball, Springsteen focuses on the wealth gap and the recession that America is mired in but this is by no means a dark album. He may be singing about broken promises and hard times, but ultimately, the album is fueled by Springsteen’s unwavering belief that it’s not too late for America to become that “Land of Hope and Dreams” again.

Comments

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