Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball
Columbia Records, 2012
But even amongst all of the experimentation, at its heart, Wrecking Ball is thoroughly a Bruce Springsteen record. Take the masterful title track, which juxtaposes a flawless singalong chorus with some of Springsteen's best lyrics to become his most epic anthem since "Badlands," or "This Depression," which could have fit on The Rising were it not for the anguished guitar echoes that permeate the second half. Meanwhile, the fist pumping rock 'n' roll of first the single, "We Take Care of Our Own," fits comfortably in the wheelhouse of post millennial Bruce, with a lyric that stands to become his most misunderstood political statement since Born in the U.S.A. Perhaps best of all is "Land of Hope and Dreams," where the ghost of Clarence Clemons floats through one of his last recorded sax solos, recalling a million brilliant moments from the Springsteen catalog and providing the album with its most sublimely emotional moment. "This train carries saints and sinners, this train carries losers and winners," Springsteen sings on the song's joyful chorus, almost like he's paraphrasing the words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It's a moment that could come across as cheesy or heavy handed in lesser hands, but if there's a guy on the planet who can pull it off, it's the Boss, and pull it off he does.
Wrecking Ball certainly has the goods as far as the songs are concerned, but it wouldn't work the way it does if Springsteen didn't have the conviction. If Working on a Dream was the sound of a rock star with nothing left to say, Wrecking Ball is the sound of an American who thought his darkest days were behind him, only to realize that things had never stopped getting worse. His economy a wreck, his people unemployed and unhappy, and as many broken dreams and wasted lives scatter across his nation as ever, Springsteen turns around and writes his most scorching, angry, and heartbreaking album in years, but at the same time, it's also among his most resilient and life-affirming. At the end of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen's characters were resigning themselves to what their lives had become on the wrong side of the American dream, but here, those same characters are fighting back. The art of the protest album has faded in recent years, but Springsteen, always the voice of the everyman, brings it back and delivers one that is certain to mean something to an awful lot of people. In the album's final moments, on the closer "We Are Alive," Springsteen delivers both a eulogy for his fallen brother and a rallying cry for the downtrodden people of his country. There is a distinct sense of things having come full circle, not just for the record, but for Springsteen's career as a whole, but with the amount of life and passion he showcases on this record, it's not difficult to imagine him making music for another 15 or 20 years. A terrific set of songs, a summation of a brilliant career, both in sound and theme, and a effortlessly affecting message, Wrecking Ball is a late career masterpiece from one of the most significant musical figures in rock and roll history, and is just about as good a record as anyone is making these days: I seriously doubt I'll hear a better album this year.