Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Boss returns with Wrecking Ball

album review

On his new album, American rock 'n' roll giant Bruce Springsteen offers social commentary on the state of America, which, it turns out, he isn’t particularly pleased with

Artist:  Bruce Springsteen
Album: Wrecking Ball

Offering socio-political commentary through music is not always easy to pull off, at least not with conviction. Yet that is exactly what Bruce Springsteen has been doing for nearly four decades, that too with a very considerable amount of success. The world first met the singer-songwriter in 1973, when the then-twenty-something released his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. The ensuing years saw the musician perfect his brand of heartland rock, and release albums like Born to Run (1975) and Born in the U.S.A. (1984), which cemented his place in history as one of the greatest artists of all time.

With his knack of storytelling through narrative lyrics, Springsteen has often used his music as a means of documenting the struggles of the working class. There’s an emotional resonance to his work which explains his longevity; this is what he is known and loved for. And this is what he has chosen to do on his new album, Wrecking Ball, a powerful set that offers more commentary on the state of America, which, it turns out, he isn’t particularly pleased with. Like always, The Boss has something to say, and he is not afraid to share his anger and air his frustration.

His 17th studio offering, Wrecking Ball features 11 songs, all written and composed by Bruce Springsteen himself, some of which (including the title track) will already be familiar to his ardent fans. With producer Ron Aniello in charge of the project, the record sees the musician plunge into a diverse vault of sounds to come up with an innovative musical output, and proves that Springsteen is still at the top of his game.

The album speaks of corporate greed, decaying morals, and abandoned ideals, chronicling an everyman’s struggle in these hard times. “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” he asks in the stomping album opener ‘We Take Care of Our Own’, a song that questions America’s commitment to the welfare of its people and laments the erosion of the social fabric. ‘Easy Money’ and ‘Death to My Hometown’ take the Wall Street honchos to task, while job struggles surface in the “trudging through the dark in a world gone wrong” tale of ‘Shackled and Drawn’, and the affectingly mellow ‘Jack of All Trades’. The disc might talk of hardships and be fraught with anger, but despite all these very obvious frustrations, Wrecking Ball isn’t simply a tale of doom and gloom. It’s a raw and raucous rally cry driven by anthemic energy that makes the listener want to get through these hard times and realize the promise of what could be.

But no matter what one’s views may be about its message, it is hard to argue that Wrecking Ball isn’t musically interesting. The “what’s a poor boy to do in a world gone wrong?” sentiments (as displayed on ‘Shackled and Drawn’) are powered by warm tunes and catchy hooks that operate on a diverse canvas of sounds borrowed from a number of genres. Touches of folk, gospel, and - brace yourself - even hip hop are sprinkled throughout the record, and the country twang of ‘We Are Alive’ brings Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ to mind, but the most obvious presence is that of the Celtic influence which permeates many of the songs on the disc; even bonus track ‘American Land’ takes a page out of Dropkick Murphys’ playbook and presents one of the album’s most hearty tunes. There are musical contributions on the album from E Street members, including some of the final recordings of late saxophonist Clarence Clemons; Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa contributes backing vocals to various tracks, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello guests on ‘Jack of All Trades’ and ‘This Depression’.

All in all, Wrecking Ball is a testament to why Bruce Springsteen’s music continues to be as appealing today as it was decades ago. It’s an affecting commentary on the world around us, and a chronicle of the unfairness and hardships that befall the working class, delivered as a fiery onslaught that’s powerful, yet intimate, instead of being a bleak, moaning dirge of despair. The album shows no signs of contrivance (provided you can forgive the occasional hat-cat, honey-money rhymes). Its message is relevant, and the use of a diverse musical palette to deliver this message is an auditory triumph. Each song on the record, be it a hard hitting rock anthem or a mellow slow burners, has its own character and place on the album, and it’s safe to say that this material will yield some riveting live performances. In short, it’s all very characteristically Bruce Springsteen, and that’s precisely why it works.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 1st April, 2012

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