Review Summary: "Where's the promise from sea to shining sea ?"
The last thirteen years have been kind to Bruce Springsteen. Since reforming the E Street Band after the largely unproductive 1990s he has gone from strength to strength, producing some of his finest work both musically and lyrically. Wrecking Ball continues this trend into a new decade and, like previous records such as Nebraska and The Rising, sees The Boss analysing the consequences of recent events on his country- namely the current recession.
Despite its dark and sombre subject matter Springsteen avoids the subdued acoustic sound of The Ghost Of Tom Joad and Nebraska. Instead the album combines the riotous energy of his Seeger Sessions folk covers album with the repressed rage of 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town. This combination is brilliantly demonstrated by the record’s opening tracks.
We Take Care Of Our Own kicks off the album with huge drums and reverb-laden guitar before being joined by triumphant violins and strummed acoustic guitars whilst Bruce rages against the loss of “the promise from sea to shining sea”.
Easy Money continues in this vain telling the story of a man being forced to desperate, violent methods by the “fat cats” in charge. Whereas, lyrically, this song may bear similarities to Johnny 99 off Nebraska, musically it is an epic folk rocker complete with sing-along “whoas”.
However, the record is not entirely made up of up-tempo folk tunes. Rocky Ground and This Depression both utilise modern sounding productions to provide a mournful backdrop for Springsteen’s tales of struggle and desperation whilst the album closer We Are Alive channels the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash into an uplifting ode to solidarity during hard times.
Indisputably the record’s highlights for me were the title track and the epic Land Of Hope And Dreams. Wrecking Ball begins with Springsteen singing over a single strummed guitar before exploding into a euphoric, up-tempo rocker which suggests that Springsteen has taken inspiration from his modern followers such as Arcade Fire and The Gaslight Anthem. His defiant cry of “hold on to your anger and don’t fall to your fear” that brings in the final chorus is already a contender for my greatest musical moment of the year
Land Of Hope and Dreams is the studio recording of a track that originally appeared on Springsteen’s Live in New York album. Here he uses electronic beats and a choir (in addition to a saxophone solo recorded by Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons shortly before his death) to create an emotional gospel- tinged anthem which sounds like a cross between Thunder Road and a church hymm and provides an optimistic counterweight to the anger of the rest of the record.
Wrecking Ball can easily stand with Springsteen’s best albums. He has succeeded in captured the rage felt by many towards Wall Street and the current economic situation that has led to widespread protest and defiance. A sentiment brilliantly summarised by the downtrodden narrator of Jack Of All Trades who states “ If I had a gun, I’d shoot the bastards on sight”.