There were a few worrying signs ahead of the release of Bruce Springsteen’s new album Wrecking Ball. Not least that the title track and another (two, if you count a bonus track) songs had already been released before, which is usually a sign that writer’s block has set in. Also the promise of ethnically-diverse musical influences made it seem like The Boss might be channelling his inner Peter Gabriel. And then there was the sad loss of The Big Man last year. But really, we shouldn’t have worried.
Well, not about the music anyway. Springsteen’s lyrics are pretty much all about the reasons we need to worry about bigger issues, and why we should be angry. Wrecking Ball has been accused in some places of lacking political subtlety, but given that one of his angriest political songs was misunderstood and co-opted by the very people he despised, you can’t blame him for being explicit about his beliefs. Certainly anyone in the banking industry who likes to sing along to Born In The USA in their cars might find themselves shifting uncomfortably in their leather seats when they listen to, well, the whole of this album.
But let’s allay some of those fears, because the rest of us won’t be uncomfortable at all – this is a great Bruce Springsteen album. Sitting somewhere between the folk protest songs of The Seeger Sessions and the anti-war E Street disillusion of Magic, Wrecking Ball has barely a dull moment and finds The Boss back on top form after the patchy and experimental Working On A Dream. The three songs (let’s include bonus tracks shall we?) that had been released before in live versions all fit in with the lyrical and musical themes at work here, and all three add something to the versions already out there. Land Of Hope And Dreams may be 14 years old, but is ripe for reinvention, while the title track deserved a ‘proper’ release and American Land sounds like the E Street band jamming with the Dropkick Murphys at the best St Patrick’s Day party ever.
As for the musical diversity we were promised, that mostly pops up as part of a very cohesive blend between that Seeger Sessions sound and your regular Springsteen formula. It works best on the raucous Death To My Hometown, which has a wonderfully diverse musical palate and is all the better for it. The idea of a Boss rap had a few people worried, but it’s a subtle affair beautifully delivered by Michelle Moore (I was particularly worried about this after misreading it as ‘Michael Moore’) on the lovely gospel-infused Rocky Ground. And while there will always be a Clarence Clemons-shaped hole in the E Street band, he does feature on Wrecking Ball and Land Of Hope Of Dreams, with his solo on the latter a fitting way for him to bow out and almost a tear-jerking moment amongst the fury.
The best of Springsteen’s 21st Century recordings have been in response to something awful, whether it’s 2002’s The Rising (9/11) or 2007’s Magic (the Iraq War), and the world’s financial crisis has inspired another classic. Anyone worried about what direction his music would head in after The Big Man’s death need not have feared, and I consider myself very lucky to be going to see Springsteen & The E Street Band live in Manchester in June, because these songs will sound fantastic live, even if the home of the world’s richest football club might seem an odd place to listen to such fiery rhetoric. But that’s Bruce Springsteen, he’s not a politician, he’s a rock star and still one of the best.