CD CHOICE:Wrecking Ball Columbia****
The word about Bruce Springsteen’s 17th studio album had it that the 62-year-old was extremely angry about the state of America. “What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account,” he recently told the Guardian. His response is Wrecking Ball,an album split between rage and redemption. It is a sentiment many outside the US will share.
Springsteen’s oneness with the working-class values, hopes and disappointments he grew up with remains a hallmark of his music. “I have spent my life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream,” he has said. The first six of these 11 tracks are fired by the belief that the distance is too great and the reality too hard.
The anthemic We Take Care of Our Own, big, brash and bursting with indignation, spits out the shibboleth. Easy Money contrasts the morality of the criminal with the “fat cats”, while the folky Shackled and Drawnsets the values of honest work against the “fat and easy” life on bankers’ hill. Similar sentiments colour the brooding Jack of All Tradesbefore the narrator promises bloody vengeance. Death to My Hometown, with its incongruous marching beat and archaic language, seems a call to class war, while This Depressionreturns to the personal. (The latter two tracks, clumsy and forced, are also the weakest.)
The tone shifts with the title track: “I was raised out of steel/here in the swamps of Jersey/some misty years ago”. Springsteen uses the demolition of Giants Stadium in New Jersey as a metaphor to emphasise the value of place, solidarity, spirit and memory, defiantly challenging the powerful to “bring on their wrecking ball”. It’s vintage Springsteen, referencing the past to help frame the present. The playful lust of You’ve Got Itgives way to the upbeat gospel of Rocky Ground.
Land of Hope and Dreams, again fusing gospel with rock, rises to a pitch with its redemptive message, climaxed by what is Clarence Clemons’s final sax solo – notes both optimistic and stirring. There is still room for We Are Alive, in which Springsteen calls on the spirit of heroes in time, from Christ onwards, to “carry the fire and light the spark”.
This album is a dramatic and considered personal statement; the E-Street Band aren’t involved, save the odd cameo. It is also, at times, wonderful, passionate music, a key factor that never eludes the canny entertainer in Springsteen. brucespringsteen.net
Download tracks: We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball