The Boss would prefer you get off his lawn.
If you loved when Clint Eastwood attempted to personify gristle in “Gran Torino,” Bruce Springsteen is bringing that silver screen feel to slick black vinyl with his new record, “Wrecking Ball.” While I’m not going to tell you it the best thing he’s ever done, I’m happy to tell you it trumps most of what’s hit the airwaves lately (which is probably the reason it’s dancing atop the charts).
Lots of artists that have carried the torch of “working man’s warblers” lose a bit of authenticity once they end up with more expensive vehicles than the Yankees have world titles, but the Boss has managed to put together a representation of the effects of the down economy on average Joes and Janes as successful as any journalist or impartial observer could.
Musically, Springsteen gets after it with little details. The twinkly piano and clean strumming that highlight the title track aids the song’s building up of “Hard times comes, and hard times go” into territory with — dare-I-say it? — your “Badlands” and anthems of that ilk. Throw in the knowledge that Clarence Clemons’ sax is making its final appearance in the house of the E-Street Band and your recipe for bleary-eyed singalongs is complete.
Thematically, he slays any of the demons that seemed to plague singles like “Workin’ On A Dream.” Springsteen thrives as a lyricist by capitalizing on character-types he created decades ago. The protagonist from “Meeting Across the River” seems right at home in “Easy Money.”
But mostly, it’s bitterness and anger against the folks Springsteen feels have gone all-in on crushing the American Dream (bankers and politicians, mostly). The gold standards of the album are “Wrecking Ball” and “Death of My Hometown” (a clever and maybe intentional little nod to his “Born In The USA” staple, “My Hometown”). That song pulls are his inner Pogues, “We Are Alive” cries Bob Dylan and the rest is — as wonderfully usual of late — culled from a deep love for Woody Guthrie.
Perhaps the hardest-hitting everyman note is struck on “This Depression,” helping in large part by emotional wanking from Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman, Rage Against The Machine). Springsteen sings of a desperate and tired man demanding support and love from his partner during the carnage caused by financial disaster. Earlier, Springsteen uses a lullaby-like piano to set the table for a dynamic lyrical ending befitting the “Jack of All Trades” involved in the words.
And while the album has some regrettable moments — I can’t help but imagine yellow-teethed sea hags and their Beau Jacksons grinding away to “You’ve Got It” inside the Broadway Hotel — on the whole it’s an oft-coarse affair that kicks away at those who would exploit rhetoric at the expense of those who hear it. Is it a little too polished? Of course it is, it’s the Boss post-”Nebraska!” It’s rare to hear something so soulful and played to the bone from a man who still remembers what it was like to look up at the “Mansion on the Hill” before he bought one.