Bruce Springsteen in the U.S.A. (A review of "Wrecking Ball")
Bruce Springsteen has described his new album, "Wrecking Ball," as the "most direct" record he's ever made. That's a big statement from the man who is arguably the most analyzed lyricist of our time. It's also what made some of the early interpretations of the first single, "We Take Care of Our Own," so interesting. Was it a patriotic American anthem, or was it a biting social commentary on a broken America? Well, for those that still think that "Born In The U.S.A" was Springsteen's attempt at writing a flag-waving rocker that could be marched along to on the Fourth of July - and think that "We Take Care of Our Own" is his attempt at another — there is some news:
You're wrong. Again.
"We Take Care Of Our Own," a thumping and blistering track, is a biting commentary on social and economic injustice. And when placed within the context of the entire album, it's more than "direct." It's about as subtle as, well ... a wrecking ball.
The entire record is that way. Even the title track, though clearly inspired by the closing of Giants Stadium, also seems to take on a bigger meaning when tucked within the album.
Two tracks that will likely get some attention are "Death to My Hometown" and "Rocky Ground." "Death" is a stopping, swaggering, Irish-inspired, pissed-off mini-masterpiece. It about a town in Anywhere-U.S.A. that's been raped and pillaged by greed and it's a song that too many towns can probably relate to. You might even call Springsteen an "occupier" on this one and it is the album's most stirring track. "Rocky Ground," which is moving both musically and lyrically, combines elements of soul and touch of hip-hop, and while its arrangement might surprise many, it is both daring and wonderful.
While the words are always what get the most scrutiny on any Springsteen album, there's also some fine music accompanying those words on this record. And while Springsteen is an angry and/or despondent American on some of it, that doesn't mean he doesn't love his country. On the contrary, it probably shows how much he does love it, and through his music, he notes the vulnerability and resiliency of its people. There is no defeat on this record, but Springsteen writes songs about a daily struggle, probably hoping they can somehow make a difference, inspire, raise awareness and get people to think a little bit more about their neighbors.
Bruce Springsteen, through his music, still takes care of our own.
(This review also appeared in March 14, 2012 issue of The Weekender.)