Review Summary: "Hold tight to your anger, don't fall to your fears"
Bruce Springsteen is 62. That probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that he’s been in the music industry for a good forty years, but for the majority of Wrecking Ball
it's a fact which beggars belief. Channelling the gulf between American dream and American reality as vivaciously as ever, The Boss appears to have reached a comfort zone in his longstanding existence whereby he’s well over his pre-millennium dodgy spell yet isn’t expected to touch the heights that he reached during his classic period. Such stability has done little to quell the internal fire though, and as such this seventeenth studio LP finds him addressing his numerous gripes with the same earnest conviction that’s made him an icon not just in the USA but the world over.
Upon hearing opening track and lead single ‘We Take Care Of Our Own,’ you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is an archetypal Springsteen record. Shamelessly anthemic, lyrically scathing and completely unmistakable, it uses the same kind of patriotic disguise which characterised ‘Born In The USA,’ and the similarities don’t end there. Its utter predictability does, however, prove a false dawn, because although Wrecking Ball
sticks diligently to what its maker does best, it also makes considerable strides to establish itself as a modern entity. By far the most obvious example of such is ‘Rocky Ground,’ which utilises hip hop rhythms as well as a guest verse from Michelle Moore, which fits staggeringly well within the established template. It’s very much the oddball on a record which otherwise tends to find Springsteen adopting his usual strut, but the gamble taken in its inclusion shouldn’t be underestimated, and thankfully it’s one which pays instant dividends.
It's the songs and not the sound which make this record such a runaway success, though, as there are some absolute crackers among the eleven here. After a rock solid opening quartet, the irresistible Irish folk stomp of ‘Death To My Hometown’ marks the point at which the album truly kicks into gear, and in most cases it would prove a stone wall highlight. The title track, however, reaches even loftier peaks, utilising the life-affirming euphoria card that Springsteen has always played so well, while the aforementioned ‘Rocky Ground’ has been dubbed “inspirational” by the television advert here in the UK, and in all honesty it’s difficult not to agree. At a risk of falling into hyperbolic stereotypes, these are genuinely some of the finest songs that he’s written in decades, with ‘Wrecking Ball’ in particular comparable to the very best in his entire back catalogue.
Even that, however, is ultimately usurped by penultimate track ‘Land Of Hopes And Dreams,’ a number which has been doing the rounds since 1999 but takes on a whole new dimension here given recent events. After four minutes of stylish progression, the song reaches its crescendo in the shape of a glorious sax solo from the since deceased Clarence Clemons, in what can only be described as “one of those moments.” The last contribution that he ever made to record, it’s a passage which displays not only his extraordinary talent but also how retrospect can affect the way in which we perceive music as a whole, and acts as a fitting epitaph to a man whose significance in shaping Springsteen’s sound simply cannot be overestimated.
It might not represent the finest individual moment on offer here, but the sultry sentimentalism nevertheless renders it the defining moment on what is arguably the strongest Springsteen record in many a year. Expectations placed upon him have undoubtedly been curbed with age, but he has undergone something of a renaissance since the turn of the century, and Wrecking Ball
is undoubtedly an outcome of that recouped confidence. Moreover, it’s a record which can be embraced by Springsteen fans of any generation, and despite his status as an elder statesman within the music industry it’s a long, long time since he’s sounded this angry, motivated or indeed relevant.