There are a lot of contradictions in music……I can listen to The Fall, followed by John Coltrane, followed by Nick Drake, followed by Man, and followed by Bruce Springsteen – all of these fit quite neatly somewhere in my, admittedly, hideously large album collection. So whilst I would readily admit that post “The River” I feel that Mr Springsteen has lost some of his most appealing aspects I can easily listen to what he does with some degree of pleasure. However it is safe to say that I have not revisited his recent output to the same frequency I have his first three albums.
So what is the new one like? Well there is a bit of kidology in the opening track in that you think you are going to get a typical Bruce album – all anthemic and fists punching to Max Weinberg’s four to the floor beat – but after that it quickly moves into Seeger Sessions mode with “Easy Money” and “Shackled And Drawn” mining americana in a blues, folk and country way.
“Jack of all Trades” similarly gets all heartfelt, emotional and moody in a John Steinbeck sort of way with Springsteen doing his now legendary man of the people tune. You can see the lighters coming in on in the crowd on this one, people swaying back and forth as Bruce wipes the sweat from his brow. Lyrically compelling and quite fascinating but musically I don’t know really – it sort of rescues itself with a guitar solo coda but I’ve heard it all before.
“Death to My Hometown” however is something slightly different coming through across a Mighty Max backbeat with some sort of mutant gospel/african chant – Springsteen does something different with his voice which works well – however the arrangement does tend towards a celidh towards the end (the good lady was surprised it was Springsteen said “this sounds like something you would hear at a St Patrick Nights party”).
“This Depression” is a curates egg of a thing – a typical Springsteen ballad mixed with an odd arrangement of soaring guitars and choirs. Most perplexing.
The title track “Wrecking Ball” is Bruce channeling “Freewheeling” era Bobby Z as we dance the barn again around the campfire. I suppose the argument is that we should all go out and dance about and have a few beers whilst the world is going through economic hell? Once again a curve ball on the arrangement throws the song into some sort of parallel universe rock middle eight before it returns to Woody Guthrie land and then the obligatory three note chant coda which the audience will all join in with when played live.
“You’ve Got It” sees Mr S doing his best Elvis impression via Gene Vincent….nice slide guitar and hanclaps….but nothing that breaks free of a well known repertoire…….
“Rocky Ground” does however does offer something new at least in the music – a bit of rap and an impressive soulful vocal from The Boss…..we also get a good reworking of “Land of Hope and Dreams” (previously on the live Madison Square Gardens Album) which mixes soul and rock to create the complete Springsteen package – probably the best thing on the album – and I assume the last song to feature Clarence – made me a bit sad when I heard it.
The closing “We Are Alive” is an odd little beast of a thing – all a bit lo-fi at the start and clearly some sort of hommage to Clemons in some part…..it builds into one of those celidh/barn dance things….
Overall then all a little disappointing – a couple of gems but generally pretty much what we have come to expect over the last few albums. Personally I would rather listen to Kill Pretty.