Springsteen Stumbles On Pedestrian New Album Wrecking Ball

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Bruce rocking the DeNiro face hard in this promo shot.
Today sees the release of Bruce Springsteen's newest album, the compact and confounding Wrecking Ball, his first since 2009's Working On a Dream. Recorded and inspired partly by the recent Occupy protests, with most songs coming before the movement was even a physical thing, in any other year it could be a readymade hit.

Is Wrecking Ball a grand treatise on the Great Recession and the fabric and resolve of America in 2012? No, for everyone who just now tuned in, this is all just standard Springsteen operating procedure. I keep reading in other reviews about some sort of fire and grit that these other listeners keep hearing through the album's 11 tracks, but I hear that maybe once or twice.

He's definitely been soaking in the vibes from bands like the Arcade Fire, Gaslight Anthem, Against Me! and the like, who have taken his template into the 21st century, injecting a youthful bite to this album.

I haven't heard him ticking off influences from stuff around him in some time. And not an album too soon. For some Dream was a minor nightmare, and the album before that, Magic (2007) was only halfway there. Which is why Ball should work, right? Let's all think warm thoughts.

I am lifelong, excitable Bruce Springsteen fan, and this album didn't really latch onto me until I took a long airplane flight and let time and the thin air in the cabin coax me into two repeated spins.

Now that I am not 38,000 feet in the air, I am not so sure what I saw in Ball, other than the prospect of spending three hours above America with a new Bruce album.

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This isn't a return to form, as some are calling it. It's staying at the same altitude, with some spare turbulence, and only a few spots where it rises above the clouds and lets the sunshine in.

It's not his "best in years," unless you consider every Bruce album to be his "best". So yes, it's his "best" by that logic. Or then there is the people that say Ball is a sign that "Bruce is back!" but where has he been? This music is not a grand departure.

Early on, this album was supposed to be an embittered screed against corporations and greed, the people who made the Great Recession possible, and a soundtrack to a digital Dust Bowl or something to that effect. It was sold to us months back as Bruce's "chances" album. Sure he takes one or two chances on Ball, adding an Irish lilt to "Death To My Hometown," or a gospel chorus to "Shackled And Drawn."

So let's break the disc down piece by piece. Think warm thoughts.


"We Take Care Of Our Own": Classic Bruce, and you can hear in the bridge where Clarence Clemons would've chimed in and made it go nuclear. As a first single, this made me fawn over the idea of Ball. On release day, and after weeks into the album, I love it even more for different reasons.


"Easy Money": Is this the same couple from Nebraska's "Atlantic City" just a few decades removed, out for one last crime crawl now that the kids are grown and the grand-kids are away at college?


"Shackled And Drawn": Gospel chorus at the end, from the Victorious Gospel Choir, doesn't save this one from coming off as the schmaltz king of the year. Am I the only one in America who isn't moved by a gospel chorus in a song? To me it comes off as a cheeky reach when rockers do it. At worst, a KFC commercial.


"Jack of All Trades":Bruce takes on unemployment on this one, one of the few bright spots on Ball, even if the subject matter is goddamned depressing. Of course the out of work protagonist has only his hands to work with now, as a corporation has taken away his position. After six minutes with this morose character you just call him whiny. He wishes to "shoot" the bastards, in true Bruce fashion, who took away his job. Of course.


"Death To My Hometown": "Damn dude, you should have just given this demo to Flogging Molly. That sounds like an awful knee-jerk reaction to this, but I have never understood why the man hasn't joined forces for real with younger bands on some new music, instead of just doing random guest spots during live shows.


"This Depression": I look to Bruce's catalog to lift me up most days - sometimes Nebraska notwithstanding - but this one is more a downer than an uplifter. Not sure if he is talking about actual clinical depression and longing for the shoulder and ear of a lover, or if he is again, attempting to echo the "voice" of the country. If I think of it as a love song, then I melt.


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9 comments
Dan
Dan

Well said. I never thought I'd say this about a Bruce Springsteen record but it is plain dull throughout - not even any real highs for me. It doesn't have to be younger musicians he works with - just anyone who can push him out of his comfort zone.

BlindWillieJackson
BlindWillieJackson

I wonder if his idol Woody Guthrie would have had dyed hair plugs, rock-n-roll threads, Palm Beach estates, private jets & a $200 million bank account?  "Born to Protest" I guess. . .

Augustus
Augustus

Conservative Springsteen fan since '79...I've been listening Dave Marsh on the E-Street Radio preview this album and I just can't see myself getting WB.  It had nothing to do with money but I just don't think I'd listen to it more than once.  I don't get the people calling in after these songs were playing and saying "this speaks to me"?  One dude said he didn't cry giving the eulogy for his daughter but after hearing one of the new songs(can't remember which one) he pulled over on the side of the road and cryed for 30 minutes.  WTF!  Just not getting it here.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

True. There are no life-changing leaps here. It's static, and I say that as a big big Bruce fan too. I love the man. 

Augustus
Augustus

Fricke and Rolling Stone gave it 5 stars, of course if the Boss took a dump on a piece of vinyl they'd give it 5 stars too...

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

 As long there are penny whistles blowing away while he lays out that log.

Augustus
Augustus

Wish I would have proof read this response better, sorry to all of the English teachers out there.

Chris
Chris

What's your fixation about giving songs to younger bands? I don't get it. Do you say that Radiohead should give their riffs to an older band to flesh out into real songs.  If critics are writing song by song by song reviews of any of today's indie heart throbs when they are 62 ( if they are still making music) I'll be impressed. Land of Hope and Dreams has been played since 1999, so perhaps Mr.Adams student. And not to mention the last great sax solo by the big man is a serious journalistic oversight. I love the aural diversity, a full album of penny whistles would not fly but this is a good mix. Building on all he has done before classic E-Street, Devils and Dust and Seeger Sessions this Album is the work of a true artist who may stumble but mostly lands on his feet. 

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