Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball: A First Listen

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 3:30 AM

click to enlarge Bruce_Springsteen___Wrecking_Ball_cover.jpg

Bruce Springsteen has done a lot in the last 20 years: toured

for John Kerry, immortalized a horrific moment of police brutality in "American Skin

(41 Shots)," and put his money where his mouth is as America's Poster Boy, with a

big fat folk album enlisting a dozen sepia-toned authenticity arbiters, as well

as a dusty Nebraska-y one that counted anal sex among its

details. What he hasn't done is made a record as memorable as any from the 20

years preceding. But excellent dribs and drabs (2007's rightfully Magnetic

Fields-compared "Your Own Worst Enemy," the Seeger band's recast of Nebraska's "Open All Night") continue to elicit hope. So did the announcement that this week's Wrecking Ball

promises to do for Occupy (an event whose workings continue in the present

tense) what the The Rising attempted for 9/11 (an event that

was final and well-mythologized before Springsteen could articulate his

feelings). This is the Boss' juiciest shot since Vietnam at articulating the

compassion in American frustration -- and I'm a betting man.

"We Take Care of Our Own"

Glockenspiel! For that alone, this is his best, E Street-est

opener in years. Unfortunately for said glockenspiel, this melody is as

one-note and underdeveloped as "Radio Nowhere," another fine song released to

radio nowhere. Unfortunately, the title

adds no further commentary to this supposed affront to the banking firm of

Romney & Santorum.

"Easy Money"

Does "Kumbaya" mean anything to you personally? That's

quickly becoming the grand effect of this record: beauteous, cavernous chanting short on meaning that anyone but a political candidate can use.

"Shackled and Drawn"

What I didn't anticipate is so how compelling these fiddle-and-choir

jams would be, though you don't know pop if you didn't think the drums would be

this loud. The Seeger Sessions has contorted the Boss' voice

beyond repair, but that's no reason not to have fun with his full-throated

gospel tunes. Just don't find them so uplifting that you glance for lyrics. The

faux-congregation leader fadeout is cute.

"Jack of All Trades"

"Clean the leaves out your drain/ I'm in your room to keep

out the rain" -- finally, an image, three songs late onto a record that announced

itself as centrist bait "from the shotgun shack to the Superdome." I'd like to

take care of him all right. In waltz time for six minutes, Bruce makes good on

that common man thing he's been working for 40 years. Few common men have a

horn section, but he really shows his commonness by gunning down his oppressors

in the final verses with a flashy six-string salute from Tom Morello.

"Death to My Hometown"

Squishing his voice (and kick drum) even more like Warren

Zevon, pounding the floor and announcing his new Irish murmur with matching

pennywhistles, this is the best, most jubilant piece of music Springsteen has penned in

ages, and its battle imagery ("no powder flash blinded the eye"; "the vultures

picked their bones") is the least simplistic on the record. Which is a hoot

considering this is the simplest us-or-them fight song here. Could Occupiers

use it? Probably not. But anyone with a desire to sing along with a Springsteen

chorus again could.

"This Depression"

"I've been lost but never this lost," he admits, and it's

true: he's overrelying on that pounding Zevon-ness, that growl, and probably his

looks, too. But "I need your heart/ In this depression" is too true to deny.

It's just that TV on the Radio's Dear Science did so much

more with it.

"Wrecking Ball"

From the first second, this is classic Bruce: "Come on take

your best shot/ Let's see what you got," a Meadowlands namecheck, more of that

glockenspiel and violin, a gorgeously plain melody with careerist horns for

extra kick. The second-most rousing thing here, which I suppose means

second-best until I warm to that Morello cameo. The problem is it feels

bushleague (and Bush-league; should we really be daring the wreckers to further

wreck us?). Word to rockist liberals: Brad

Paisley ("A Man Don't Have to Die") and Miranda Lambert ("Lemon Drop") had more

to say than that.

"You've Got It"

While we're drowning in nonspecifics, we might as well hit on

a sexy one that hinges on a funky if nonspecific "it." "Honey it ain't got a

name/ You just know it when you see it": porn?

"Rocky Ground"

I like this album a lot more than I'm probably letting on,

especially when it's playing in the background, which is suspicious. Whose

rousing chants sound better from far away? And what's with the whole distance

thing anyway? It's that same lack of intimacy that's keeping me from loving the

Men's Open Your Heart. Whether albums are supposed to speak

to you directly or work as a blank canvas for useful thoughts is your opinion,

but this guy did used to have more to say besides sending prayers. He even

intertwines a rapper with nothing to say. This record is

gorgeous but bland. 

"Land of Hope and Dreams"

After the title tune, this is the second thing here that

could pass muster on a lot of other Boss albums ("thunder's rolling down this

track"), and it's got a real sad memento of Clarence Clemons' much-missed

honking greatness. Maybe I'm imagining things, but the singing steps it up a

notch. Seven minutes, feels shorter. Always feels like you've already heard it

before, but what Bruce song doesn't when you hear it for the first time?

"We Are Alive"

A weird, not-quite-uplifting little boogie to end the

thing -- where's the "We Take Care of Our Own" reprise? David Fricke apparently

called this album (which has no bad songs) "bravely apolitical," which is

insane. Yeah, I get it, both sides are to blame, blah blah. But you're going to

have to pick one in order to activate any kind of care you want to take of your

own in November. And I do wish this smart, well-meaning vet had something

active to say about that. Reassuring his minions that hard times come and go

unwittingly separates him from the common folk he wishes he could still

portray. The common folk ignored his

Wal-Mart exclusive last record because they're in the streets with shit to do.


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