Dino Hollywood Reviews, “Wrecking Ball”
Bruce Springsteen WRECKING BALL Album Review
When turbulence and a heartbeat merge and surge to melodic life 8 bars into the latest and third darkest Bruce Springsteen record, savor it because that’s as uplifting a turn as this train’s bound to take, a truth presaged by the conductor’s commencement, “I’ve been knocking on the door that holds the throne”. Turns out, Max Weinberg’s heartbeat cadence is actually a brash knock, one with no overture to its urgency. This is no “Thunder Road” style build up, we’ve all seen too much by now to revel in foreplay. Springsteen’s opening salvo is a threat and his latest “Wrecking Ball” is that threat’s promise fulfilled.
A full-service, lament, revival and retaliatory rally cry for the downtrodden; depressing but never resigned, “Wrecking Ball” is just what the title suggests. Unlike other of his darkest works, there’s no murk here to be wallowed in. The lines are startling clear, never larger than life itself and drawn deep in the sand thanks to artfully adaptive production by Ron Aniello, the integrity of all musicians involved, and the resiliency of a 5 star general with the balls to alienate fair-weather fans and sentimental patriots alike. It’s impossible to know what portion of Springsteen’s flock such types comprise but Teabaggers will doubtlessly feel assailed as the illusions these “Proud Americans” have been hiding under are torn asunder. This is not to say the proceedings are overwrought or overtly dour. In all actuality, this is The Boss at his most anthemic, but while the choruses are in most cases bigger and more celebratory than ever, the words are more direct and their meaning less interpretive. We’d all be Dancing In The Dark of the rafters to some of these barn burners if The Boss wasn’t literally burning the barn down around us. We’d all be high-fiveing like a bunch of coked-out tailgaters if we weren’t “Shacked And Drawn” or even weaving arm in arm in a drunken lust for life if The Boss wasn’t bellowing, “They brought death to our hometown, boys!” This is the cataclysmic confrontation his career and the plight of his country have been leading him to. And if you find your senses overcome by the some of the more despairing moments or swept up in one of The Big Man’s sax solos from beyond, brace yourself, cause those tears are about to get bitch slapped off your face with the turn of a phrase. Let’s face it, lyrically speaking, Springsteen has only evolved from wunderkind. A word without consequence brokers no influence with the weathered journeyman we take up arms with here. In what may be the defining moment on a LP of moments that redefine, an already bare bones ballad “Jack Of All Trades” (one that would not sound out of context on his now classic “Nebraska”) nearly goes numb, dispensing with even the sparsest of funeral march snare patterns just in time to make room for the kicker, “If I had me a gun, I’d find the bastards and shoot em’ on sight.”
Make no mistake, this is a revolt record where Wall Street is the battleground but America itself is the target. The box of musical tools, forms and structures on display are dredged up from our deep, discarded musical history stretching backwards from rap to gospel without ever feeling like a stretch. This analog approach is mirrored but feels far more slight-of-hand than hands-on in the treatment of The Boss’ own back catalog. As lyrical and sonic illusions echoing Springsteen eras past hasten the record’s haunted dimension, they manifest so suddenly and dissipate with such ease to suggest that The Boss is in clear command of his ghosts. His carefully selected spectres conspire with melody and movement to emulate the struggle in song, yet there’s no struggle to conjure the magic. Here, it’s effortless.
Perhaps the most blindsiding aspect of this majestic musical demonstration of civil unrest is the sheer volume of textures it builds upon and obliterates with without ever losing the thread or loosening the chain. This Wrecking Ball, swings, swells, unsettles, settles in and subverts. Even within the span of single songs, the sweetest of set ups pay off in unexpected bloodshed and the wind ups pay off with hooks, and the hooks are all left hooks. We’re talkin’ Smoking Joe Frazier left hooks! In some ways “Wrecking Ball” plays like a greatest hits collection of songs that have yet to be proven as such (excepting live gems “Wrecking Ball”, “Land Of Hopes And Dreams”). This is like a lost Springsteen mix tape, made by that hardcore E-Street carny with the “No Retreat/No Surrender” tattoo, who collects set-lists and only options to take a bathroom break if they play “Tunnel Of Love” or “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”. The closest we get to that brand of melancholic positivity would be “You’ve Got It” which serves here as a simple reminder of what’s worth fighting for in the first place and even that cocksurest of blues ditties is on the road to “Rocky Ground” a gospel tinged funeral dirge that retreads over the reverberant refrain of “I’m a soldier!” and warns, “Before we cross that river wide, blood on our hands will come back on us twice”.
When the most intimate and introspective tune on the record (This Depression) features a Tom Morello guitar solo, it certainly feels like we’ve arrived in an America deserving of no quarter. And as time comes for us to “cross that river wide”, death is but a reprieve who’s respite is short-lived because before we know it Mr. Springsteen is crooning an incantation of a coda, “We are alive… And though our bodies lie alone here in the dark, Our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark, To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart”. Apparently there’s no end to this line as the coals of resurrection are stoked and martyred spirits revisit our nuclear melting pot. These are the shadow caverns we’ve been courting, the black stretch of track we’ve been careening towards but there’s a haunting exultation in the air. In asking us to measure ourselves side by side with the unsung heroes of our same struggle, Scooter evokes none other than The Big Man himself and points us toward a Promised Land where our legacies live on.