One thing’s for sure: no one can accuse Bruce Springsteen of not having an opinion.
As he’s done numerous times before in his legendary career, with his 17th release Wrecking Ball, “The Boss” has taken dead aim at the most critical issues of our day—in this case, most predominantly, economic inequality, Wall Street corruption, and their effects on the American Dream.
This is certainly not new territory for Springsteen; reviewers are already drawing comparisons to the social commentary found on several of his previous records, most notably Nebraska (1984), although Wrecking Ball is far more anthemic than its lo-fi predecessor. Some critics have even suggested that Springsteen’s take on current issues is re-hashed, tired, and cliché-ridden.
I disagree with them heartily. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
With the opening track “We Take Care of Our Own,” the Boss wastes no time in taking on the economic powers-that-be: “I’ve been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone / The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone.” The next four songs continue the tirade almost relentlessly, through songs like “Shackled and Drawn” (“Gambling man rolls the dice / Working man pays the bills / It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill”); “Death to My Hometown” (“No cannonballs did fly / No rifles cut us down… “But just as sure as the hand of God / They brought death to my hometown”); and even the album’s first ballad “Jack of All Trades” (“The banker man grows fatter / The working man grows thin…If I had me a gun / I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight”).
The record’s turning point is “This Depression,” in which the tirade ends with a stark confession: “Baby, I’ve been down / But never this down.” From there, Wrecking Ball seems to shift from a here’s-what’s-wrong-with-the-world theme to a we’ll-get-through-it-by-sticking-together theme. The record takes on a hopeful, almost gospel-ly tone as it progresses, hitting its crescendo with the anthem “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” already a fan favorite since Springsteen has closed his live shows with it for the past 12 years or so. (Fans are likely to get a little misty-eyed when they hear the sax solo by the beloved late Clarence Clemons.)
As I said, some critics have accused the album of being trite or cliché-filled, even suggesting that the 62-year old Springsteen is trying in vain to return to his glory-rock days. But I don’t think so at all. At times like these, it’s natural for the people of a culture to look to its sages and “truth-tellers” for wisdom, and historically those truth-tellers are often the minstrels and troubadours, the singers, songwriters and poets. Springsteen has often been labeled almost Dylan-esque in his social commentary over the years, and that’s because, quite frankly, many Americans relate to what he is saying. True, Bruce Springsteen doesn’t have the rock chops he had in his younger years, but he’s earned a sort of elder-statesman status within our culture, and I think it’s highly appropriate for him to weigh in musically on what has been happening.
So no, I don’t think Wrecking Ball is trite. I think it speaks right to the heart of issues that are concerning many Americans today, and I think its combination of truth-telling and hope are exactly what many people need to hear. With Wrecking Ball, The Boss has taken the podium, and I think our culture still cares what he has to say.
Album rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
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Posted in: Rock Music