The Boss is back.
In his 17th studio album, Bruce Springsteen returns from a three-year break angrier than ever. Wrecking Ball serves as his response to the economic recession and his call for the resurgence of the American Dream. The album also serves as the curtain call for the late Clarence Clemons, who passed away during the recording process. As Springsteen himself states in the album’s liner notes: “Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies, he leaves when we die.”
The album opens with the first single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” a fist-pumping anthem reminiscent of Springsteen’s earlier work. The next two tracks, “Easy Money” and “Shackled and Drawn” offer nothing spectacular to the album. The former is another up-tempo jam while the latter takes the form of a fun, prison-yard romp.
“Jack of All Trades” marks a change in the progression of the album. Driven by a slow, somber piano, Springsteen croons in a reflective voice, “There’s a new world coming, I can see the light/ I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be alright.” Guitarist Tom Morello (from Rage Against the Machine) adds a well-placed guitar solo to close the track. A heartfelt effort all around, it’s arguably the standout of the album.
“Death to My Hometown” acts as a follow-up to Springsteen’s classic “My Hometown,” albeit with a heavy Irish/Celtic influence. While it may not sound like typical Springsteen, it somehow manages to work. “This Depression” tackles cynicism and disillusionment with cryptic lyrics and a pounding drum beat (the track features a solo by guest star Tom Morello).
The title track “Wrecking Ball” marks another highpoint in the album. Written from the point of view of the now demolished Giants Stadium, “Wrecking Ball” will make any Springsteen fan smile, with all too familiar references to New Jersey landmarks and a soulful saxophone solo by the late Clarence Clemons.
“You’ve Got It” and “Rocky Ground” continue the second half of the album with enjoyable, but forgettable tunes, the latter being the (confusing) choice of second single. “Land of Hopes and Dreams” redeems the album entirely. A passionate seven-minute performance by the E Street Band and an unforgettable final studio effort by Clemons re-direct “Wrecking Ball” on the right path. “We Are Alive” is a folk-influenced tune that borrows a piece of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” It ends the album in an optimistic tone, with avid reassurance by Springsteen that tough times will get better.
While it’s not as catchy as Born in the U.S.A, and it’s not as romantic as Born to Run, to judge Wrecking Ball solely based on Bruce’s earlier masterpieces would be a mistake. Wrecking Ball has its faults, but it succeeds in its own right and is equally moving as any of Springsteen’s previous work.
For those wanting to hear more of Springsteen’s work, the exhibit “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen” at the National Constitution center provides an in-depth look into his life and music. Springsteen is also in town with the E Street Band at the Wells Fargo Center on March 28 and March 29.