Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen (Columbia Records, 2012, 62 min.)
Bruce Springsteen has hit a stride since the 9/11 tragedy re-awakened him, revitalizing both his songwriting and his purpose with the album The Rising. With similar purpose and drive, Wrecking Ball finds Bruce fighting for blue-collar Middle America in response to the Wall Street greed that has crippled this country in the Great Recession.
On his first single, “We Take Care of Our Own”, Bruce critiques the government for their lack of response to the New Orleans tragedy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:
“From Chicago to New Orleans/From the muscle to the bone/From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/There ain’t no help, the Cavalry stayed home”.
But in Springsteen-esque style, he calls on the country to pull together, to “take care of our own”.
Vengeance on Wall Street
The track “Death to My Hometown” is considered by many to be the angriest tune of Springsteen’s career and I agree. Springsteen chides corporate greed and the fact that it has brought down the factory jobs of the heartland; he states that Wall Street has taken The United States into recession and has yet to be punished for it:
“The greedy thieves that came around / And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found / Whose crimes have gone unpunished now / Walk the streets as free men now”
The Land of Hopes and Dreams
The song, “Land of Hopes and Dreams”, features Springsteen’s famous backing band, The E Street Band, in what may be their final track ever, as their saxophonist and Bruce’s second-hand man, Clarence Clemons, passed away in June. This song is a fitting tribute to his amazingly soulful saxophone playing.
As touching is the mini-eulogy included in his liner notes:
“….Standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music. Clarence carried it in his heart. It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly.
…I’ll miss my friend, his sax and the force of nature that was his sound. But his love and his story–the story that he gave to me, that he whispered in my ear, and that he gave to you–is going to carry on.
Clarence was big and he made me feel, think, love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man? Too fucking big to die. You can put it on his gravestone, you can tattoo it over your heart.
Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die.”
Genre Defying & Virtuosic Playing
The songs of this album are well-written by Springsteen, but what is more impressive is his willingness to stretch and include new styles of music, as evidenced by his use of hip-hop and gospel on the second single, “Rocky Ground”.
He effectively uses the genre of Irish folk on “Easy Money” and “Death to my Hometown” as well as the use of Mariachi on “Jack of All Trades”.
Equally impressive to his songwriting and use of varying musical styles is Springsteen’s virtuosic ability on a multitude of instruments. On the album, Springsteen plays guitar, banjo, piano, organ, percussion, drum loops and live drums (including on the first single, “We Take Care of Our Own”, equalling his E-Street counterpart, Max Weinberg of The Conan O’Brien Show fame). He was also smart to include some very good guest artists, among them Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and violinist virtuoso Soozie Tyrell.
After 30 years, Bruce Springsteen continues to push himself as an artist and to push our country to be a little better, from the top to the bottom. I sincerely recommend Wrecking Ball to you.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Posted by: Ben Kromholtz
Ben Kromholtz is a musician and teacher. He studied at the University of Washington, receiving a BA/BM in Music and Music Education in 2002. He has taught choir and piano all over the Puget Sound region. As well as being a musician, he is an avid sports fan and enjoys good beers and wines, movies and reading. He lives in Bothell, WA with his wife and four children.