By James Baase
Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album, is as expected, still keeping it fresh. A mixture of folk and Irish influenced sounds with even a little classic Boss, is what makes up this endeavor into angry social commentary that has two parts: despair and redemption.
The Cd opens with the bright-sounding track, “We Take Care of Our Own”. This song sounds most like an E Street Band song. Ironically, as with most of the CD, on this track there is no playing by any E street members. As we progress into what becomes a hootenanny of songs with deeper, more somber tones lyrically, “Easy Money” acts to incite looting in the streets while “Shackled and Drawn” & “Jack of All Trades” lament the plight of the working and unworking man.
The grim, pounding message of “Death To My Hometown” further expresses Springsteen’s anger with those responsible for destroying the American dream. Not with guns or cannons, but with the mismanagement of Wall Street, as indicated earlier in the CD. The entire tune for this song is a sampling of an old spiritual anthem from the South, once again drawing from Bruce’s folk influences.
After the low point of the album, “This Depression”, at halfway, the CD takes on a more hopeful attitude. The title track “Wrecking Ball” picks up the pace considerably by defiantly declaring “Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you got…”. In the face of current adversity, this foot-stomping anthem, which was actually written to mark the 2010 demolition of Giants Stadium, seems fitting at this turning point.
My biggest surprise is the hauntingly sweet “Rocky Ground”, featuring gospel singer Michelle Moore throughout. Her Springsteen penned rap at the end is a highlight of the song, while a sample from another old southern spiritual song “Í’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord” keeps popping in, suggesting where hope lies.
You may have heard “Land of Hopes and Dreams” live because it’s been in rotation at concerts since 1999. This studio version features some of the E Street Band, most importantly, the final appearance of Clarence Clemons. Finishing up is the Country Blues stomper “We Are Alive”. If you love Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” you’ll appreciate the riff which is borrowed yet, wisely, not copied. One of the bonus tracks “American Land” is a leftover from the Seeger sessions that paints a colorful picture of early America.
Basically what Springsteen has done is taken a bunch of folk songs he wrote on guitar, and teamed up with producer, Ron Aniello, with his cornucopia of instruments and done whatever the hell he wanted with them. The Boss is pissed. He’s saying his peace and taking out his anger on the music. This CD may not be a rocker, but it will rock you, to some extent. The use of choirs, banjos, and all kinds of horns…perfectly, is just a sample of the many surprises you’ll discover. (I’m just not feeling the drum machines.)
As a whole, Wrecking Ball is a pretty good compilation of songs by one of America’s best songwriters. Whether you get inspiration from Bruce’s lyrics or the rich diversity of sounds packed into this CD, there’s something for everyone here…more than meets the eye.
01 We Take Care Of Our Own
02 Easy Money
03 Shackled and Drawn
04 Jack Of All Trades
05 Death To My Hometown
06 This Depression
07 Wrecking Ball
08 You’ve Got It
09 Rocky Ground
10 Land Of Hope And Dreams
11 We Are Alive
Bonus Tracks on Special Edition
01 Swallowed Up (In the Belly Of The Whale)
02 American Land
Producers: Ron Aniello, Bruce Springsteen
Running Time: 61:32