Wrecking Ball is Bruce Springsteen's 17th studio album and, wow, is he angry. This is an album about the current state of the US, the lack of accountability for and following the global financial crisis, a lack of hope, and then, perhaps, hope for the future. The production is big, stadium-like rock but with enough layers to make it interesting. The lyrics are comparatively simple compared to some of Springsteen's earlier storytelling. The musical influences vary from rock, though country, Irish folk, gospel, country and R&B. I know I'm a Springsteen fan, but I just can't stop listening to this album.
A quick run-through...
The opening track We Take Care Of Our Own is an ironic scene setter - like Born In The USA the chorus is all patriotic but the verses ask a lot of questions. Easy Money is a sing-a-long about a modern day Bonnie and Clyde who are going out for a night of armed robbery. Shackled and Drawn is a folk tale of downtrodden workers. Jack Of All Trades is a rhythm and blues ballad where Springsteen inhabits an unemployed working class man - the guitar solo is amazing. Death To My Hometown is a fusion of Irish folk and American gospel that details the destruction brought by the "robber barons", complete with penny whistle. This Depression is a beautiful, moving ballad that intertwines the state of the economy and a state of mind. Wrecking Ball started out as a tribute to a baseball stadium due for demolition but also serves as a metaphor for destruction of good things brought on by greed. I think You've Got It is the album's only traditional love song but it is ambiguous enough that there might be a metaphor lurking there somewhere. Rocky Ground is R&B come gospel with lots of biblical imagery about losing direction. Land Of Hope And Dreams is a big gospel-infused production about a freedom train that takes people somewhere better, invoking Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready in both influence and via samples. The album ends with We Are Alive, which brings together the voices of the lost to end on a potentially positive voice.
I've read through quite a few reviews of this album and they are polarised. Many heap high praise on the album, pointing out things like its clearly directed anger, big production and musical variation. Other have found fault including: the production is big but protest songs should be gritty and acoustic, the stories are painted in broad brushstrokes without the usual intricacy and intimacy found in many of Springsteen's lyrics, the big production is boring and lacks innovation, Springsteen is a millionaire entertainer speaking on behalf of the common man. I side with the positive reviews. This is Springsteen's best album in years. The point missed by many of the negative reviews is that this is an album of anthems, sometimes ironic, to be sung by anyone who is angry at the way things have panned out. Perhaps a naive right-wing politician will once again misunderstand the irony and decide that We Take Care Of Our Own should be their election campaign song!
While all the songs are big rock numbers of one type or another, many have loops and samples. There's gospel vocals and "whooping", horns and strings, drums and loops, accordions and penny whistles... and, of course, lots of guitars. The album certainly has enough musical ornamentation around the bombastic production to stop it from being boring.
The clear intention of the album seems to be a bunch of loud songs with a simple message and it clearly succeeds at this. You can't easily compare this album to the classic albums Springsteen made 35 years ago: he's different, times are different and this is supposed to be different. I really like this album and am listening to it a lot, often at the request of Sebastian who has also taken a shine to it. This is a very, very good album.