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Joel (Joel)
Username: Joel

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From:
Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2012 - 02:56 am:   

A new Bruce Springsteen album rarely fails to convey an essential sense of its time and place. Wrecking Ball shudders with a personal and political rage against the loss of hope, of dignity, of dreams, in the face of America’s economic and cultural collapse. This is Springsteen’s darkest album since Nebraska, and it’s infused with a similar sense of the exposed north-eastern US landscape – the flatlands where there’s nowhere to hide.

Another shadow haunts this album: the big shadow of the late Clarence Clemons, saxophone player with the E Street Band. His last recorded playing is on two of these tracks, and his absence echoes in the stark, metallic chords of much of the rest like a ghost in the machine. This is not a beautiful album, but it’s a truthful and painfully direct one. The sleeve notes end with Bruce’s achingly sad obituary for his friend of forty years.

Like a Springsteen concert, the album traces a journey. It starts with the ominous discontent of ‘We Take Care of Our Own’ and ‘Easy Money’, posing difficult questions. What values do we really live for? Where is our society going? Who is setting the agenda? Then reality kicks in, all quiet and mean. The trio of songs ‘Shackled and Drawn’, ‘Jack of All Trades’ and ‘Death To My Hometown’ are stark ballads of desperation, laying the blame firmly at the door of the bankers and profiteers who have bled the US (and global) economy dry. ‘This Depression’ is a blank cry of pain, an almost inarticulate low point in which human contact is the only distant spark.

Then the fightback starts. ‘Wrecking Ball’, an anthem for the New Jersey working class, welds weariness and pain to endurance and pride in a traumatic struggle of torn muscle and chiming guitars. Yes, it’s that good. ‘You’ve Got It’ is a love song stripped to the bare essentials: need and yearning find their answer, the rock finds the stream. ‘Rocky Ground’, enlivened by the vocals of Michelle Moore, frames the struggle for dignity in religious terms.

After sex and religion the stage is set for mythology, and ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ draws into the station with its bones aching and its heart on fire. The live version of this song recorded pretty much a decade ago was lyrical and passionate; this time, the pain and weariness are tangible. The beautiful lines We’ll take what we can carry / And we’ll leave the rest are marked by a sense of irreparable loss. It’s a different song now: it sounds like less, but it weighs more.

The album ends with ‘We Are Alive’, where personal grief meets the eternal struggle for human rights – a note of quiet and gentle defiance after so much harshness and despair.

This isn’t Springsteen’s best album. It lacks the subtle warmth of Magic, the quiet irony of Nebraska, the turbulent myths of Darkness on the Edge of Town. The lyrics are blunt and repetitive, the music stark and brittle. But you are never in any doubt that these songs mean business. What they are about is something far more serious than critical acclaim, let alone commercial appeal. This is the sound of a great songwriter and a group of great musicians watching their world fall apart. It’s perhaps the most emotionally naked album Springsteen has ever recorded. This is his truth. It’s not easy to hear or to forget.
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John Forth (John)
Username: John

Registered: 05-2008
Posted From:
Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2012 - 10:38 am:   

Great review, Joel.

I've always had a preference for Springsteen's 'darker' tracks - Jackson Cage, Point Blank, the entirety of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album - but haven't gotten on very well with many of his more recent albums (Magic aside). This sounds like it'll be worth a spin, though.
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Huw (Huw)
Username: Huw

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From:
Posted on Saturday, April 28, 2012 - 07:16 am:   

Thanks for the review, Joel. I've just got my hands on Wrecking Ball so it'll be interesting to listen to it with your comments to hand. Aside from a few of his more popular songs I'm a newcomer to Springsteen's music, and am enjoying the discovery immensely.

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