Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band occupy a special place in American culture. Since releasing “Greetings from Asbury Park NJ” in 1973, The Boss, as Springsteen is known, has been counted among the undisputed arbiters of Americana. His songs about blue-collar workers, lonely back roads, turnpikes and everyday life reached an artistic climax with his 1982 masterpiece, “Nebraska.” Desolate, haunting and earnest, Springsteen recorded the album on his own with a four-track cassette player in his bedroom.
His latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” released on March 5, runs in the vein of Springsteen’s statements on American politics and the economy that have characterized his albums since “Nebraska.”
The album opens with the rock anthem and first single, “We Take Care of Our Own.” The lyrics combine both patriotism and cynicism in response to the economic crisis and makes references to the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Springsteen contrasts government hypocrisy with the earnestness of ordinary people in the refrain, “Wherever this flag is flown / We take care of our own.”
Unfortunately, the first half of the album feels forced. The music is catchy and good more often than not, but Springsteen’s lyrics are overbearing in their politics. Of the first six tracks, the only one really worth listening to is “Shackled and Drawn.” Although the lyrics lash out at the American banking establishment in reductionist terms, the lush, densely layered instrumentation and background vocals make the song one of the most memorable on the album.
The album comes into its own on the title track, “Wrecking Ball,” which Springsteen wrote in 2009 as a tribute to the Giants Stadium at The Meadowlands, which was constructed just as his own career was gaining momentum in the 1970s. The Meadowlands were more than just a venue to Springsteen; they were a symbol of the good days, and now they’re a nostalgic symbol of his own mortality.
This track, along with, “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” carry extra weight because they feature the saxophone playing of Clarence Clemons, The Big Man, Springsteen’s iconic saxophone player and musical right hand man who passed away on June 18, 2011. “Land of Hopes and Dreams” was written around the E Street reunion tour in 1999. The track features two Clemons solos, but it’s more than just a swan song; it captures that classic hope in the face of adversity and arena-filling musical grandeur that has been lacking from all of Springsteen’s material lately.
“Grab your ticket and your suitcase / Thunder’s rolling down this track … We’ll take what we can carry / Yeah, and we’ll leave behind the rest / Well, big wheels rolling through fields / Where sunlight streams / Meet me in a land of hope and dreams,” he sings.
“Wrecking Ball” ends on a hopeful note with the rollicking track, “We Are Alive.” Although many songs on the album boarder on jingoistic, this track, along with “Wrecking Ball,” and “Land of Hopes and Dreams,” remind listeners of why The Boss still commands so much attention — his unparalleled ability to capture the unfaltering American spirit, in all of its wild passion and grit and love.
“I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago,” he sings on “Wrecking Ball.” “Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers, I’ve seen champions come and go / So if you got the guts mister, yeah if you’ve got the balls / If you think it’s your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball.”
Rating: 3 out of 5