"... Wrecking Ball is a musically-solid albeit lyrically/morally inconsistent album from the late-career Boss."
Before launching into this review of Bruce Springsteen’s new album, let me make this clear: I love the Boss. I’ve seen him in concert at least ten times, have pilgrimaged to Asbury Park and his childhood home, and know every word to every song he’s ever written. I cry when I watch Wings for Wheels, the documentary about the making of Born to Run, and, I believe in the promised land.
All that is to say that the hypocrisy of his latest album, Wrecking Ball, cuts deep. The album is angry, decrying the ever-growing socio-economic divide in the United States and is populated by characters who are hardworking victims of the machine and the greed of its operators. “Damn right!” one might say if he didn’t realize the production of the album and its supporting tour are feeding directly into the very problems the album is raging against. Fortunately, this time he didn’t make the egregious mistake of releasing the album as a Wal-Mart exclusive as he did in 2009 when he sold a greatest hits collection with the notoriously anti-union corporate giant. However, he continues to produce his albums through Sony, play his concerts at Clear Channel venues, and sell his concert tickets through Ticketmaster.
With Wrecking Ball being his tenth album to top Billboard charts, Springsteen is certainly in the position to make a difference in the music industry by patronizing smaller business with better practices. Talk may be cheap, but a ticket to a Springsteen show certainly is not. A single ticket to a show on the latest tour will set you back $120 after fees—the characters he portrays on his album could certainly never afford to see him live in concert. As he sings on the new album, “The banker man grows fat, working man grows thin.”
Springsteen has become known for his lyrics about the plight of the working man, so what is different about this album? This time, the characters seem distant, more stereotypical and even phony. Back when Springsteen conveyed the feeling of being trapped by teen pregnancy in “The River,” we felt the sense of condemnation brought on by receiving “a union card and a wedding coat,” for his 19th birthday. But then, he was basing the song off the direct experience of his sister and brother-in-law. On Wrecking Ball, when Springsteen sings “I’ll mow your lawn, clean the leaves out your drain/I’ll mend your roof to keep out the rain/I’ll take the work that God provides/I’m a jack of all trades, honey, we’ll be alright,” we can only assume he’s channeling his gardener or pool boy at his New Jersey, L.A., or Florida estates.
All that being said, the album still is a lot of fun to listen to. It’s extremely energetic and sounds like a party as Springsteen reaches across genres to create tracks that reflect influence from differing time periods and cultures. No variety of music is off limits for him — he dons a bit of an Irish accent and features a tin whistle in “Death to My Hometown,” ends “Shackled and Drawn” with gospel cries of “I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight!” and even features a rap solo in “Rocky Ground.” If you can ignore the aforementioned problems with the album, through its anger and frustration, it is uplifting and offers optimism and hope for a better future. It is musically-adept solid rock album, powerful in its rhythm, instrumentation, and vocals. While not an E Street Band album, it features members of the band, including Clarence Clemmons, who played saxophone for the band for over thirty years before passing away last June. While certainly no Born to Run, Wrecking Ball is a musically-solid albeit lyrically/morally inconsistent album from the late-career Boss.
Verdict: Boss completionist - BUY IT. Everyone else - STREAM IT.
Wrecking Ball was released March 5, 2012. Bruce Springsteen will play to a sold out crowd at the Verizon Center on April 1.