Boss swings through expectations with 'Wrecking Ball'

Record review
March 7, 2012 12:00 am

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Bruce Springsteen 'Wrecking Ball' (Columbia)

3 stars = Good
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Bruce Springsteen seems to be at his best when things are at their very worst, so it's no surprise that he rises up once again with a soundtrack to prolonged recession.

There was some talk that his response to these hard economic times might come in the form of a spare acoustic album a la "Nebraska." What he's ended up with is quite the opposite, as Mr. Springsteen and producer Ron Aniello (Candlebox, Jars of Clay) pile on some E Street Band, strings, horns, accordion, gospel choirs, sousaphone, pennywhistle, you name it.

Like "Born in the U.S.A.," it begins with an anthem that's ripe for misinterpretation. "Wherever this flag's flown/we take care of our own," he sings in "We Take Care of Our Own" on a chorus that any one of those politicians might want to use in this campaign year. In the verses, though, he laments that there was no help from the cavalry and he reshapes "America the Beautiful," demanding to know "where's the promise from sea to shining sea?"

On what would be side one back in the day, we're treated to tales of desperation, sometimes with deceptively upbeat backing, like on "Easy Money," on which a gun-toting couple gets dolled up to venture out on some "Nebraska"-level mischief. "Death to My Hometown," which looks like a dirge on paper, comes out as a raucous Pogues-like Celtic stomp, not unlike what he was doing on the "Seeger Sessions" or those gigs with the Dropkick Murphys. In any case, it's a brilliant contrast, as the Boss lashes out at the new "robber barons" who did their damage without rifles or cannonballs. Woody Guthrie did warn us a long time ago "that some people rob you with a fountain pen."

The side-one dirge is "Jack of All Trades," a ballad led by a dull piano line similar to Chicago's "Colour My World." As Mr. Springsteen sings about a poor Joe trying to find work, the horns chime in as if it's his funeral. When he sings, "there's a new world comin'/I can see the light," he couldn't sound any less convincing. "This Depression," with Tom Morello's space-rock guitar solo, has the billowing feel of that same guy marching off into the afterlife.

First Published 2012-03-06 23:03:56

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