Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball
Bruce Springsteen has developed into a bit of a contradiction over the last few decades of his career. On the one hand, he is almost inarguably the voice of the American middle class, a blue collar poet that has embodied the spirit of a people for several decades (and if you think I'm being hyperbolic, take a spin back through "Born in the U.S.A.," which hit the '80s right on the nose before Reagan co-opted it, and "The Rising," which was a post-9/11 swell). On the other, Springsteen is really, really fucking rich. He tours on a private jet, nearly refused to perform at Glastonbury because the festival couldn't pay him his usual rate, and is at any estimation a multimillionaire. Put in the (fairly annoying) parlance of our times, Springsteen is definitively part of the 1%.
But not on Wrecking Ball. No, here, for at least an hour, The Boss is once again a guy from New Jersey who looks at what has become of his country and can't help but be a little upset. On the album's bound-to-be-misread opening track "We Take Care of Our Own," Springsteen lays out his own, often sarcastic views of patriotism and the way our country has failed the middle class in recent years. It's not subtle (but Springsteen rarely is, freely calling his own lyrics "corny as hell"), but it operates as a thesis statement for the powerful, lyrical, and often surprising hour that follows, over which Springsteen shows that an American crisis is still enough to get him up in arms and ensure he is working at the top of his game.
The rest of the album is a mix of genres and influences, managing to create a work that is sonically a huge departure while remaining lyrically consistent with the rest of his work. Whether its familiar sounding tracks like the robbery-satire "Easy Money" and the quiet, working-man ballad "Jack of All Trades," the Irish-influenced "Death to My Hometown" or the hip-hop inspired "Rocky Ground" (on which Springsteen writes, but thankfully does not try to deliver, a verse of rap that works better than it has any right to). He occasionally goes a bit over the top, like on the seven-minute "Land of Hope and Dreams," which paints a picture of a train full of "losers and winners" that is not only a bit too obvious, but also drags on for a few minutes too long, yet for the most part, Springsteen plays to his strengths here, letting himself expand a bit while staying thematically close to home.
It would be easy to paint Wrecking Ball as a revenge fantasy on bankers, financial analysts, and the 1%, and Springsteen detractors likely will, but that reading completely misses the point of the album. On tracks like the rousing, catchy-as-hell title track and the closing track "We Are Alive," Springsteen carries things far past shallow anger, and into an effort to accept what has happened and rebuild the country he unabashedly loves, warts and all. Ultimately, Wrecking Ball is the kind of album only Bruce Springsteen can pull off--rousing, powerful, and shamelessly straight-forward--a rock and roll album that is of its time as it simultaneously transcends it. This is a big arena rock album, because that's what Springsteen does, and that's what we need him to do. When America seems lost, Bruce Springsteen rides in (on, yes, his private jet) to remind us what's really important about the American Dream and how best to overcome its flaws to find our way to a better tomorrow. Sure, it's a little corny, but its also the sort of thing set to inspire stadiums full of people and leave listeners with at least a glimmer of hope. And that, 40 years into his career, is still what The Boss does best.