Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
Bruce Springsteen has always been at his best when donning the role of the "average man" in the face of corporate and economic tyranny. After he rode off down the 'Thunder Road' of youthful angst and grandiose, Technicolor hopes and dreams in his 1975 masterpiece Born To Run, his latter works spoke about the little guy trodden down by the big guys. He became (and remains) America's Poet Laureate, the man we turn to to heal our wounds and sing our woes. There is that story of Bruce staring at the empty space where the Twin Towers once stood as a pickup truck drove past, the driver crying out "Bruce we need you!", to which end he went and recorded one of his best albums in a long while, 2002's The Rising - articulating better than anyone a nation's anguish.
The Boss is back again, with another powerful album - his self-proclaimed "angriest" album to date. It might be tougher to step into character, "a rich man wearing a poor man's shirt", but Springsteen does it well, giving his protagonists empathy and dignity as only a man who once walked in those shoes can. Opening track 'We Take Care Of Our Own' sounds like it could have come from The River (1980): the thundering drums, the organ blast, Little Steven's wonderful, whiny backing vocals. The song screams solidarity and optimism in the face of huge obstacles: "I've been stumblin' on good hearts turned to stone / The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone / We take care of our own / Wherever this flag's flown."
The songs themselves speak of the greed of Big Money, Wall Street versus the mean streets. 'Easy Money' tells of a man who takes things into his own hands, prepared to commit armed robbery just like "all them fat cats they just think it’s funny." On the opposite side of the coin is the stoic man in 'Jack of All Trades', trying to eke out a living doing what odd jobs he can while "the banker man grows fatter, the working man grows thin." 'Death of My Hometown' with its strong Irish influence is both scathing and celebratory; towns and livelihoods picked dry and left to rot by big business, yet the rebel-rousing music and Springsteen's snarling delivery means he won't be taking things lying down.
The stunning 'Depression' comes after the catharsis of the previous track. "I've been down, but never this down / I've been lost, but never this lost / This is my confession." While some may be able to soldier on, for others it is a battle too difficult to bear. Here Springsteen wisely leaves off the odder, eccentric musical influences and just lets guitar, drums and bass do the talking in a straightforward rock beat. And it works a treat, as it does in the magnificent title track, The Boss going back to his roots. Here Springsteen's trusty Telecaster takes the lead with the other instruments joining in at the chorus. In the end it's all The Boss needs: "I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey / Some misty years ago / Through the mud and the beer / And the blood and the cheers."
In fact, you kind of wish he had used that formula a bit more often. The strong first half of the album is irrevocably marred by a much weaker second. While the Celtic 'Death to My Hometown' works well, the embarrassing hip-hop influence and terrible rap interlude most certainly does not work in the horrendous 'Rocky Ground'. Unforgivable Bruce! 'Land of Hopes and Dreams' (which contains one of the last performances of The Big Man, the late Clarence Clemons on saxophone) has been around a while and a mainstay of the live shows, yet the re-worked album version with its twee gospel influence feels watered down and half-hearted.
Bruce Springsteen's place in rock's musical firmament is as solid and defined as if his face were carved into Mt Rushmore. He is the voice of nation, a patron saint of the common man, the voice of the disenfranchised. Maybe he doesn't get it right all the time, but he hits home runs more often than most.