Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Bring On Your Wrecking Ball
"The verses are the blues, the chorus is the gospel," Bruce Springsteen once said in an interview. He might have been talking about his then release "The Rising" specifically, but that statement could apply to any one of the man's songs. "Wrecking Ball" hits officially in a couple of weeks, but I spent the last two days becoming very close to this fantastic piece of work.
To paraphrase a friend, judge art by what it's trying to be and what it is, not on what you want it to be.
I think it's safe to say, there isn't a Bruce Springsteen fan who didn't want "Wrecking Ball" to be the new "Darkness On The Edge Of Town." (Isn't that the hope with every release?) Some might have even settled for another collection of tight, radio-friendly songs like the ones found on "Magic." But once you accept the fact that our hero is no longer the man he was 5 years ago, let alone the man he was in 1978, Bruce's "gospel" continues to be very compelling, and "Wrecking Ball" is Bruce Springsteen's gospel record.
Almost all of the songs here are stark, first-person narratives about the will to live and the constant struggle of so many during hard times. The sound of "Wrecking Ball" might be closer to the roots music found on "The Seeger Sessions," with horns, strings and even pennywhistles taking over the musical arrangements, but at its heart, "Wrecking Ball" rips into the soul like "Nebraska."
"Jack Of All Trades" is the centerpiece here, with its hymn-like cadence and story of a man who promises, "Honey, we'll be alright," as he accepts whatever God hands him, good or mostly bad. It's a monster of a song, much-like "Racing In The Street" was the first time we heard it. "This Depression," another ballad with a very heavy plea, is just as powerful, as the drone of a Robert Fripp-like guitar and a distant chorus underscores Bruce confessing as a man who's never felt so weak. "I need your heart, in this depression."
Two songs originally made their debut in concert, "Land Of Hope & Dreams" and the title track. I know many who groaned when they saw the early tracklist a few months ago, feeling as if the space for two new songs had been taken by two that had been previously heard. But just as Bruce can take a song to new heights in concert, The Boss has managed to take two "live" songs to an even higher level in the studio. "Hope & Dreams" and "Wrecking Ball" are a joy; two jolts of inspiration that kick the record into that place you thought was only attainable at an E-Street Band concert.
Though "Wrecking Ball" is a powerhouse, not everything works. "You've Got It" is weak. It's a lyrical speed bumb with a melody on the verses ripped right from "All Or Nothing At All," a song found on not everyone's favorite "Human Touch." "Shackled & Drawn" works on its own, but in this case, it follows "Easy Money," a song very similar in sound, so for me, it gets lost in a haze of sameness. A minor quibble.
The E-Street Band has changed, first with the loss of Danny, then the Big Man. Life is about change. That's an odd thing for someone like me to admit. I've spent many words on these pages pining over the good ol' days when music was "better." But when someone as important as Bruce Springsteen has something to say, the message takes precedence over how it gets delivered. I don't need "Jungleland" any more. Or "Sherry Darling." Or, "Kitty's Back." I know I'll get those in concert, at least once in a while.
I love "Wrecking Ball." I hope you will, too.
1. We Take Care of Our Own
2. Easy Money
3. Shackled and Drawn
4. Jack of All Trades
5. Death to My Hometown
6. This Depression
7. Wrecking Ball
8. You’ve Got It
9. Rocky Ground
10. Land of Hope and Dreams
11. We Are Alive