Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball - review

With a career spanning four decades Bruce Springsteen is undeniably one of music's premier forces, yet despite the many of millions in the bank his lyrical focus has always reflected the struggles and pride of the common man. 'Wrecking Ball' is his 17th studio album and finds The Boss in most confrontational form. What he once said about 'the american dream' only being achieveable for a small minority stands even more true over a decade in to the 21st century, and across the first half of this album Springsteen delivers a set of defiant blue blooded protest songs, beginning with the unambiguous bombast of 'We Take Care Of Our Own'. 

Subtlety is not on the agenda lyrically or musically as the strident arrangement matches those of the 80s Springsteen, as supersized as stadium anthems come. The opening track sets the tone nicely, with a thoroughly uplifting air punching tune driving righteous words of anguish. A fire rages within the record's rebellious spirit as the lyrics favour the underdog while condemning the bankers who bled the globe dry and the U.S administrations that betrayed so many. For example 'Easy Money' is a huge country stomp that marries a gospel choir to Irish strings while dissing the fat cats, while 'Shackled And Drawn' uses a similar musical backdrop to portray the struggle of the working class. 'Jack Of All Trades' continues this lyrical theme with a weary yet defiant piano ballad where Bruce's voice sounds like an American landmark in itself and where the lyrics bite harder, threatening "If I had me a gun I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight". 

The album's title track acts as its centrepiece and is perhaps the records defining moment, a song written about an American baseball stadium being demolished, sung from the viewpoint of the stadium itself. However in the context of this album the stadium acts as a poignant metaphor for hopes, dreams and freedom. It is essentially a stand against the powers that be, telling them to "take your best shot, let me see what you got". In addition, a brilliant melody and another full hearted arrangement are present to make this a true Springsteen classic. Elsewhere the double meaning of 'This Depression' is set to something that at first may sound very MOR but soon breaks into a spell of yearning beauty with its squealing guitars and sombre charm. 'Rocky Ground' is another wobble, emotionally slightly overdone and frankly a bit of a bore. Despite some wonderfully understated brass and a descent into glorious gospel, an ill fitting female rapper wades in to provide an unnecessary extra ingredient as the arrangement becomes clogged and ineffective. 'Land Of Hope Of Dreams' is a lot better, with a blaring 80's keyboard hook, familiar train metaphors and a stunning sax solo from the late Clarence Clemons which adds a certain poignancy to the full throated emotion of the music. 

The record ends with another highlight in the form of the rousing 'We Are Alive', which begins acoustically with a heartfelt verse and a brilliant chorus before building up to a joyous melody guided by heavenly voices and bright explosions of Spanish brass. "Shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart" is one example of the sentiments here, making for an impassioned ending to this stadium-aimed rallying cry of an album. There are moments that will make you cringe and as a whole this record won't stand up to his best work, but 'Wrecking Ball' still shows an artist eager to prove many strong points on an album which soundtracks modern day America very well. 7.5

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