Billy Joel (Springsteen's NYC counterpart) found soft rock sweetness in the 80's with the single 'We Didn't Start The Fire', even if David Henson's 'Heroes In Blue & White' brought the Leicester City fans to his feet. Joel had the MILF's, whilst Springsteen had Stephen Merchant. It's common to mention Billy Joel in the same line as Bruce Springsteen nowadays because of their close relationship and joint performances of recent years. Bruce Springsteen is the working mans rock hero and has been since the early days. Wrecking Ball is his 17th studio album and doesn't disappoint. Backed by the majority of The E Street Band, his lyrical themes focus on Occupy Wall Street (even though some songs pre date Occupy Wall Street). Bruce has the manly attitude but also shows compassion and romanticism alike Billy Joel.
'We Take Care of Our Own' opens the album with a glistening string section and an anthem song structure. The Boss lives up to his name and gives an excellent vocal. The guitar work is heavily refined and the structure is similar to that of Arcade Fire, The Gaslight Anthem and Coldplay. The strings are beautiful and the imaginative lyrics stand out as they always have done. Springsteen doesn't disappoint with the triumphant 'Easy Money'. He's the voice of the people and his lyrics are well documented as the angriest and most realistic lyrics a Springsteen album has. I love the female backing vocals which are Spiritualized-esque.
This is no 'Nebraska' or 'Atlantic City'. These are energetic anthems for the modern day people. 'Shackled And Drawn' has some delightful vocal segments. The acoustic guitar work stands strong as the hard hitting drum beat echoes with raw power. The layered vocals work a treat and only magnify the lyrical themes. The little orchestral segments standout and Bruce delivers a progressive vocal. 'Jack of All Trades' has that heartfelt lyricism that his older work proved necessary. The setting is ideal and the strings work incredibly well with the 'eyes closed' vocal. The lights are turned all the way down and his voice reads out. "When the hurricane blows", he makes reference to Hurricane Katrina and other debatable topics. The drum beat is pretty basic but the vagueness is what I want to hear. The tiny guitar solos (by Tom Morello) appear and fade away as they should.
'Death To My Old Town' is an ode to 'My Old Town' from Born In The U.S.A. It's a song of regret and anger, singing about destruction and political greed. The Irish-fuelled instrumentation only adds to the imagery. It has a pretty dominant backing vocal and a standout drum beat with clapping which actually works in this context (Sleigh Bells... Reign of Terror...). 'This Depression' brings honesty and dignity to a new front. His heartfelt vocal is typical but never fails to capture the moment. It's soulful and the verberated drumming puts a huge emphasis on the lyrical imagery.
'Wrecking Ball' opens with Springsteen's response to American bureaucracy gone wrong, "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, I've seen champions come and go". The song was written about the demolition of the Giants Stadium and the Spectrum arena in New Jersey. He wrote the track in 2009 and sang it during his performance at the stadium prior to it's closure. He's using this track as an umbrella for American society in general over the 'last 30 years'. Using it as a destruction of American citizen values among other things. It's a truly commendable track with brilliant brass and a standout vocal section towards the end. It's energetic and sounds compact with production being taken care of by Ron Aniello.
Bruce has always had an ear for soulful instrumentation and 'You've Got It' clearly has it. His vocal repetition of the track title is a little off putting but the following guitar work is outstanding. The lyrics are ear catching and very respectful. It's a plain track an doesn't expand on the basics, but the vocal is eerie which I would never usually associate with Bruce Springsteen. I'd never associate the word 'tiring' with Springsteen either, but 'Rocky Ground' is predictable ans is the dud on this album. Sure, it has some nice lyric but the instrumentation is extremely basic and the progressions are like I mentioned, predictable.
It's not until 'Land of Hopes And Dreams' that Springsteen comes into his own. The previous tracks remind me of teenage angst and ironic lyrics about being poor and jobless. The uplifting lyrics are calm on the ear and the western imagery and historic lyrics shine above the previous tracks of anger. The now deceased Clarence Clemons makes an appearance on Sax on this track, that alone being a cap to his extensive guest credits as an E Street Band member. The drumming is contextual and the vocals remind me of soul singers mixed with 50's pop artists. It's quite fantastic and is among Springsteen's best written songs post 1990.
'We Are Alive' brings to life Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire' horn melody. Springsteen uses it well with his brass band and places it among the dated banjo playing and American west lyricism. It opens with a heavy bass drone before the melody kicks in and the vocals begin. Closers have become circular in recent years and Springsteen adds to that circulation, beginning with the aggressive early tracks and eventually ending on an uplifting finale which makes me want to start the album again. Wrecking Ball isn't experimental or unique. It's a straightforward protest album with Irish themes and important messages.