A lot has changed in the nearly forty years since Asbury Park introduced Bruce Springsteen to the world. Acclaimed shortly after as one of the great american songwriters, and the voice of blue collar America, Springsteen has spoken for the little guy like a modern-day Tom Joad. His early work was a bit political, but mostly storytelling through the eyes of a keen observer. Over the last two decades, his songs have turned into great fodder for protests. As those who came before him have been writing more and more about personal, introspective moments, Springsteen has taken the torch that Dylan lit with his The Times They Are A-Changin’ album.
On Wrecking Ball, it’s all about anger. The economic collapse and the inability of our government to reconcile their differences for the good of the country seems to be the center of Bruce’s attention. Each song, with the exception of “We Take Care Of Our Own,” touch on different ways this failure has touched families and communities. The album also solidifies Springsteen’s position as the reverend of American rock and roll.
Never one to rest on his laurels, The Boss tries some new tricks on this album, most notably adding some hip-hop to the song “Rocky Ground.” Now, it would be a lie if I said I had complete confidence in this decision. The idea of having anything other than that signature Bruce sound seems like sacrilege, but actually it isn’t bad. In fact, I’d go out on a limb and say it’s the second best thing about the song. The best thing is the gospel choir providing vocals on the refrain. The worst is Springsteen’s backing vocals that sound like they were lifted off of BB King’s appearance on “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand” by Primitive Radio Gods. The rap verse is as follows:
You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
You raise your children and you teach ‘them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times, come no more
You try to sleep, you toss and turn, the bottom’s dropping out
Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt
You pray for guidance, only silence now meets your prayers
The morning breaks, you awake but no one’s there
The woman rapping goes uncredited as far as I can tell, but she does a good job. It seems like hearing a rap in the middle of a song like this would be a shock, but if fits into the flow very well. Maybe we aren’t far from a Springsteen/Lil Wayne collab.
In one of the more Dylan-influenced tunes, Bruce is singing about a character who has taken a string of odd jobs to make ends meet. “Jack Of All Trades” is the kind of tune that reminds you of the sacrifices people make to fulfill the needs of those we care about. There are lyrics that depict that, but the one I’m most interested in is toward the end of the song. Remember on “Masters Of War,” when Dylan says “I hope that you die and your death will come soon?” Not to be outdone, Springsteen takes it one step further:
So you use what you’ve got
And you learn to make do
You take the old, you make it new
If I had me a gun
I’d find the bastards and shoot ‘em on sight
I know that as far as it goes, my opinion on this album doesn’t really make a difference to you. If you like Springsteen, you’ve probably already pre-ordered the deluxe edition. If you hate him, I’m not gonna change your mind. I can say this, though: His work over the past few albums has been praised so highly, that living up to expectations is a fantasy. For my money, this is his best album since The Rising. Wrecking Ball proves that Bruce is still on top of his game, and one of the few legends of rock and roll willing to change with the times and still make music that is one hundred percent genuine.