Album Review: Bruce Springsteen - 'Wrecking Ball'
The hardest part about considering an album like Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball is that it’s nearly impossible to listen to without any preconceived notions. Springsteen’s a living legend, one of rock music’s most recognizable torchbearers, and he’s had a long career with almost as many lows as highs. Throughout the 1970’s, Springsteen and the E Street Band sounded young and raucous, crafting arguably the most powerful records of their career. The late 80’s and early 90’s brought albums like Human Touch and Lucky Town, some of the weakest in their catalogue. Since then, it’s been a pretty mixed bag with glimpses of brilliance in 2002’s The Rising and 2005’s Devils & Dust, and slight disappointments in 2007’s Magic and 2009’s Working On a Dream.
And now we have Wrecking Ball, Springsteen’s sixteenth album, and it’s a record that’s sure to reach a pretty mixed crowd. With emerging and established indie rock bands like Titus Andronicus and Arcade Fire taking influence from Springsteen’s back catalogue, records like Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska are becoming increasingly popular with a younger generation of musicians and music enthusiasts. The same circles of young people that embrace these albums are also the most likely to dismiss Wrecking Ball off hand, and there’s really not a lot of room to judge them for it. When an artist reaches the point in his career where he’s gained the level of superstardom that Springsteen has, the general trend is that his artistic output suffers. Tom Petty’s 2010 Mojo and Paul McCartney’s 2007 Memory Almost Full are good indications of this trend, and Springsteen’s releases leading up to Wrecking Ball haven’t exactly suggested that he’ll be able to sidestep this phenomenon.
Luckily, Wrecking Ball stands as somewhat of an exception to this rule. It’s an album filled with vitriolic choruses and impassioned performances from Bruce and his band. The album’s opening track and lead single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” may be slightly too epic for it’s own good, but it’s got the feel of a classic Springsteen song. It’s got more energy than much of what the Boss has released in the past decade.
Tracks like “Easy Money,” and “Shackled and Drawn,” show Springsteen’s knowledge of Pete Seeger-era folk and protest songs, and both of these cuts are highpoints on the album. The pairing of “This Depression,” and title track “Wrecking Ball,” stands as the album’s emotional centerpiece. “This Depression,” is a relatively slow burning ballad that sees Springsteen at his most vulnerable. Throughout the track, he sings in a weathered voice, “This is my confession, I need your heart,” and the result is genuinely moving. “Wrecking Ball,” feels like a sequel to Born in the U.S.A.’s “Glory Days,” with lyrics that invoke the swamps of New Jersey and Springsteen’s stomping grounds. If “Glory Days,” is a reflection on youth, then “Wrecking Ball,” is a celebration of resilience. The song sees an older, more experienced man embracing what the world gives him, and proclaiming, “Bring on your wrecking ball.”
Though there are considerable strengths to the album, Wrecking Ball isn’t without its flaws. “You’ve Got It,” is an underwhelming love song that’s pretty generic compared to the rest of the songs on the album. “Rocky Ground,” is probably the most problematic track on the record, and it’s Wrecking Ball’s only major flaw. The song opens with a clichéd vocal hook that sees a female vocalist singing, “We’ve been traveling over rocky ground,” over a programmed drum beat. The song continues to get more confused when a short rap verse is introduced over an instrumental break. As ridiculous as the prospect of rapping on a Bruce Springsteen album sounds on paper, it sounds worse on record.
Though “Rocky Ground,” is pretty laughable, it’s also only one of eleven tracks to be featured on Wrecking Ball. The album as a whole stands as a solid effort from one of the world’s most beloved songwriters. While it may not see Springsteen reinventing himself as an artist, and it certainly isn’t his strongest collection of songs, Wrecking Ball is a record made by a man who loves what he does. Bruce Springsteen has continued to release enjoyable music with an intense level of dedication for nearly forty years, and Wrecking Ball confirms that he’s one of the hardest working musicians around.