Review of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball
In Bruce Springsteen’s late period, there’s been one constant: the shittier America, the better his music. In 2002, when the country was still reeling from 9/11, he gave us The Rising, the one musical statement about the attacks that didn’t feel like a massive pile of jingoistic garbage. Then, in 2007, when Bush was just about done destroying the universe, he released the excellent Magic, which made the already painfully obvious point that Dubya was an awful president somehow seem interesting and relevant. By contrast, in early 2009, when America was willing to overlook its many problems because “OMG Obama! YAY!” he released the decent, but rather lightweight Working On A Dream. Quite simply, the man thrives on pointing out America’s flaws.
And sure enough, with America mired in a world of shit, Springsteen’s latest album is one of the best of his career. Wrecking Ball has already been called the angriest album Springsteen has ever made, and it’s hard to argue against that. He is pissed as hell on this record and, more importantly, he’s pissed at everybody. If Magic was record about how Bush fucked up, Wrecking Ball is an album about how everyone fucked up.
Opening track and lead single “We Take Care Of Our Own” astutely points out that we do not, in fact, take care of our own. In Steven Hyden’s review for the AV Club, he suggested that some people may have mistakenly took the title at face value. I really hope no one is actually that stupid, because the irony couldn’t be more obvious. The melody may be light and catchy, but when Springsteen sings “The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone,” and alludes to the conditions at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, it’s pretty obvious that he’s not particularly happy with the state of charity in this country.
Elsewhere, Springsteen discusses how the lack of jobs has affected us, painting pictures of unemployed workers and families struggling to make it through. The strongest of these numbers is “Jack of All Trades,” in which a man reassures his wife that his skill set will enable him to make money, but he never seems completely sure. This theme occurs again in a different light on “This Depression,” in which a man who can’t find work turns to his wife for emotional support. This might sound sappy coming from a less skilled artist, but when the Boss sings “in this depression, I need your heart,” you can’t help but feel something.
The album isn’t all dark, however, as many songs have a gleefully ramshackle feel to them, particularly in the first half. “Easy Money,” “Shackled And Drawn,” and the Pogues-esque rocker “Death To My Hometown” are all fun sing-alongs that will thrive in a live setting. The lyrics are still pretty bleak, especially on “Death To My Hometown,” but in the right mood, you could probably dance to any of them.
After 40 years in the business, Springsteen is still cranking out great albums. A lot of people say Springsteen’s heart can’t possibly be in it because he’s just too damn rich, but it’s hard to see how anyone listening to this album could think that. He may be in one percent (or, more accurately the .00001 percent), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand the plight of the 99 percent. His paeans to the struggling workers of America on Wrecking Ball make that abundantly clear. No matter how much money Springsteen has, he still gets it.