“Wrecking Ball,” Bruce Springsteen (2012): 4.5/5 stars

I haven’t listened to the album enough times to say for sure, but I think “Wrecking Ball” is Bruce Springsteen’s best since 2002’s “The Rising.” I’m sure there will be some who say it’s his best in even longer than that (one review I read called it his best since the 80s), but I just really, really love “The Rising.” Either way, Springsteen has had a lot on his plate lately; in his personal/musical life was the death of long-time friend and saxophone player Clarence Clemons last year, and in his professional life… well, as one of the most well-known protest singers of the last forty years, and with so much to protest lately, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering what the Boss would have to say.

The first single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” will of course be the song that some unthinking GOP candidate inevitably decides to use on the campaign trail this year. And on first listen, it almost seems like they’ll have a reason to; with lyrics like “Wherever this flag’s flown / we take care of our own,” the song sounds far more patriotic than the similarly misappropriated “Born in the U.S.A.” But when Bruce sings that “the cavalry stayed home” and asks “where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” he’s looking toward the people, not the government, the 99%, not the 1%, as the source of his patriotism.

This record is as angry as anything he’s come out with before, full of cynicism and vitriol and confrontation, but it isn’t just a rehash of “Born in the USA”/”The Rising”/etc. While I certainly am not complaining about a few last saxophone solos from the Big Man, whose work appears on “Land of Hope and Dreams” and the title track, not everything is what we’ve come to rely on (although sadly in the case of the late Clemons, we won’t again). Some songs sound like they wouldn’t be out of place on an Arcade Fire album, and he even includes a bit of a rap verse on “Rocky Ground” (I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether this was a good choice). Some of the songs are a little bit folksy, while some have a gospel influence. One of my favourites is “Death to My Hometown,” sounding straight out of an Irish pub or protest and perhaps looking back to the nostalgia of 1984’s “My Hometown.” Springsteen mixes in some new elements to old favourites and for the most part it’s to great success.

The one thing I think could have improved the album would be a rougher production. Some of the songs sound too smooth, too polished. Some of my favourite Bruce Springsteen’s songs have always been the ones that are more stripped down, fewer effects and more fury. Still, there’s more than enough of the latter on “Wrecking Ball,” and the former aren’t enough to overwhelm that. This is a damn good record, and with the way things are right now, this is the Springsteen record I’ve been hoping to hear.

This blogger is also very excited about (finally) seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert for the first time just over two months from now, at the Estadio Olímpico in Sevilla, Spain. 


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