In a time of economic hardship and growing inequality the people need a voice. Enter rock n roll icon, Bruce Springsteen. Young Academic’s Bobby Gant reviews the Boss’s hard hitting 17th studio album, Wrecking Ball.
One of his most powerful albums for years, it is fair to say Bruce Springsteen isn’t pulling any punches on Wrecking Ball. He is angry. In a way unique to Springsteen, it is a patriotic record which manages to slam the American system and evoke images of revolution and possibly even violence in the US.
“If a had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot them on sight” he sings on ‘Jack Of All Trades’, about the casino bankers and government backed financial institutions that have brought economic disaster and misery to America as well as globally.
Wrecking Ball isn’t an especially subtle album. Springsteen isn’t trying to hide his anger and frustration in subliminal lines tucked away in comfortable heartland rock songs as he occasionally has done in the past. The financial crisis, unemployment, ruined lives and general American hardships are all themes of the album. The Boss has been here before of course, but never quite like this.
The opening track will no doubt be compared to ‘Born In The USA’ and for good reason. ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ is a foot stomping arena anthem, yet the lyrics don’t match the uplifting music. “We needed help but the cavalry stayed home” concerns the lack of help afforded to the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The chorus line ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’ is in fact a snidely delivered blast at the politicians who have for years allowed the rich to get richer while being totally unable to do just that, take care of their own people.
The music crosses genres throughout. The folk rock style from the Seeger sessions is very prominent but not dominant. It is mixed with gospel, bursts of jazz sax and trumpet, Irish rebel music and classic, traditional, Bruce Springsteen rock. It even offers a spot of rap on ‘Rocky Ground.’
As already mentioned, bankers are not popular people on this record but Wrecking Ball is more than a reactionary banker bashing record, it is a demand for change. It is a record which points out that the system is no longer serving the people.
The albums Pogue-esq Irish rebel track, ‘Death To My Hometown’ is a track about the destructive nature of capitalism at its worst. “No shells ripped the evening sky. No cities burning down. No armies stormed the shores for which we’d die. No dictators were crowned.” It wasn’t a war that brought devastation to so many lives, which closed factories and destroyed homes, it was an economic system.
The title track ‘Wrecking Ball’ hammers home much the same message. During the chorus, The Boss is feeling confrontational challenging the powers that be to “Bring on your wrecking ball. Come on and take your best short, let me see what you’ve got.” But as the song wears on there is a slight hint of desperation and helplessness that even the rousing “Whoa whoa whoa” driven exit can’t quite shake.
On ‘Easy Money’ a victim of the economic hard times decides to follow the example of the “Fat Cats” and make his money in a criminal manner. It is damning and in places, controversial stuff.
The album closes with an eerie, powerful number, ‘We Are Alive’ in which the dead start speaking. Not just any dead though, killed trade unionists and murdered civil rights activists who’s souls are rising and they’re coming back to fight once again. Some might suggest it is a call to arms, a demand to remember fallen martyrs of the past and follow their example.
Wrecking Ball is an album about hard times. It is an album about the times we are living in. It is potent, it is timely and many would say it is the kind of protest voice that is much needed right now.
Wrecking Ball is different from Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The hardship and hard luck stories in those classic albums had a romantic, poetic frame, supported by more complex music and perhaps deeper reflections. Wrecking Ball is to the point, a rallying call to the downtrodden suffering as a result of economic failure.