And More...

Wrecking Ball, originally a tribute to a venue about to be demolished when Springsteen and the E Street Band played there in 2009 and revised to cover the demolition of the Spectrum in Philadelphia was originally written from the stadium's point of view, but in the context of the album it becomes a call for perseverance and rolling with the punches.

If there’s a weak point on the album, You've Got It is probably it, sounding like the work of a rather inept Springsteen clone but it’s largely there as a precursor to another set piece in the form of Rocky Ground where a surprisingly effective rap and a massed gospel chorus call on the congregation to stick together through times of adversity. It’s the start of the run of there's a new day coming tracks that bring the album proper (there are a couple of bonus tracks tacked on at the end, as is S.O.P. these days) home in a rousing mood of This Land is Your Land defiance.

And that defiance comes through in Land of Hope and Dreams, first performed on the 1999 Reunion Tour, included on 2001's Live in New York City and tackled again in 2002 during the sessions for The Rising. It proved surplus to requirements in that environment, but here, coming off the new day coming theme of Rocky Ground, echoing Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready and boosted by two Clarence Clemons sax solos, the train metaphor works the dream that’s the diametrical opposite of what Bruce was on about back in We Take Care of Our OwnThat was the way it’s supposed to be but isn’t. This is the way it can be if we take that Rocky Ground defiance and work in together. People get ready/You don’t need no ticket/You just get on board, regardless of race, class or creed. 

That race, class or creed bit comes through in the campfire song ambience of We Are Alive, invoking martyred strikers, defiant protesters, and oppressed migrant workers. There’s a mariachi horn riff that invokes Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire and a lyric line that draws the two halves of the album together as Springsteen invokes the subjugated dead, the ghost of Tom Joad,and the generations of freedom fighters in a nation that conveniently forgets that much of its early success was built on slave labour.

From there, the bonus tracks are a mileage may vary situation, and I could definitely have done without the mournful Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale) in the slot it occupies in this running order (that won’t be an issue when we get into Hughesy’s Top 1500 Most Played shuffle mode, will it?), but American Land written and recorded during the 2006 Seeger Sessions and a regular inclusion in the set list thereafter delivers a barnstorming Irish jig about the American Dream and the way things should be. It’s a track that could have worked in the Land of Hope and Dreams slot, though LoHaD does the job marginally better.

By this point, of course, it should be fairly obvious to the discerning reader that Wrecking Ball is coming from a particular world view, and your reaction to the album is going to stem largely from the extent to which the listener’s viewpoint coincides with the sentiments expressed herein. 

Springsteen is angry and accusing in these songs, and from where I’m sitting he’s got every right to be. He’s seeing a scorched earth America, razed by profiteers as charlatans and ideologues undermine democratic values while the line their own pockets in the name of freedom and the real business of politics in a democracy– responsible government and an equitable distribution rather than a steady accumulation and segregation of wealth– is pushed to one side. 

We are, in other words, in Woody Guthrie This Land Is Your Land territory, and while there’ll be some of my friends and acquaintances who won’t agree all I can say is more power to your elbow, sir.

What we have here is a carefully designed collection of songs, sequenced to deliver a message, the work of a man who might have every right to take it easy and coast on the strength of past glories like the dude in Randy Newman’s I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It).

In other words, Mr Springsteen is firing on all cylinders. How many performers looking down the barrel of their sixty-third birthday can you say that about?

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© Ian Hughes 2012