Springsteen was a supporter of Yes we can Obama, you can see similar sentiments turning up in his work as far back as The Promised Land and he’s always been addressing problems that confront the ordinary bloke in the street in tough times. The guy that wears a tie, Wall Street greed and corruption and the subsequent impact on main street America are more recent concerns.

So for half the album we’ve got the denunciation of the way things are, followed by the reminder that this isn’t the way things are supposed to go. While the album kicks off with We Take Care of Our Own and you could be forgiven for dismissing things as Born in the U.S.A. Revisited that veneer of patriotism in the chorus is undercut by references to the days after Katrina, abandoned ideals and the dark side of the American dream in a country that Springsteen sees as badly in need of help.

There’ll be candidates in the forthcoming election who might be tempted to appropriate the song for campaign purposes, but listening to the fist pumping anthemic, choruses the hey-heys about faith and country I was reminded of a cartoon in the late sixties or early seventies where a hairy revolutionary issues a reminder to his peers.

“Just remember, kids, when you’re smashing the state, keep a smile on your lips and a song in your heart.”

Or words to that effect.

We Take Care Of Our Own is unmistakably Springsteen, booming drums and chiming guitars, as Bruce outlines the theme that runs through the album. People in need of assistance have no choice but to help themselves and each other. There ain’t no help, he sings. The cavalry stayed homeWe take care of our own, in other words, because there’s no other choice.

Through Wrecking Ball some of the angriest messages are wrapped around tunes almost guaranteed to get the toes tapping and the hips swivelling. The message on Easy Money and Shackled and Drawn might be a scathing attack on fat cats and the goings-on up on banker’s hill, but they’re danceable as all hell.

Easy Money starts out in Atlantic City territory, heading out for a night on the town and an escape from the reality of day to day burdens in a jaunty Irish-folk number that sounds like we’re out for a good time. Well, we are, but along the way we’ll be collecting what’s rightfully ours, carrying a Smith & Wesson .38 with hellfire burning in the belly in a get square with all them fat cats who’ve been getting away with murder and now it’s time for a little evening up.

And if it seems like they’re going a step or two too far, there’s Shackled and Drawn, which still sounds like we’re having a good time though a closer listen reveals things aren’t quite as cheery as the sound of the chorus suggests, and there’s no doubt about the sentiment in the words.

The outcome of that Shackled and Drawn situation comes out as Jack of All Trades slows things down, underlining the message. Sure, he’s a man who’ll take whatever work he can find and do whatever he needs to turn his hand to, and, yes, Honey, we'll be all right, but he knows why his family’s in this pickle and if I had me a gun, I'd find the bastards and shoot 'em on sight, says the guy from the new permanently freelance working class, without health or social security benefits or, by this point, patience. 

So the messages don’t pull any punches. Death to My Hometown turns straight towards the greed of Wall Street bankers, congressional impotence and the crisis they’ve brought down on the average Joe’s head. There’s an obvious allusion to the nostalgia of My Hometown on Born in the U.S.A, but close to thirty years later the vacant storefronts are gone. The marauders raided in the dark/And brought death to my hometown, and though the damage is done, there is no point in wallowing in self-pity.

You need light and shade in a project like this, and after the rousing Irish rumble of Death

This Depression delivers four minutes of droning guitar and a narrator on the point of giving up, and delivers the listener to the album’s turning point.


© Ian Hughes 2012