Bruce Springsteen’s more overtly political albums tend to have a quieter feel, as though the music couldn’t match the vitriol of the lyrics. In albums like Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, Springsteen mostly armed himself with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, painting stories of bleakness in which the promise of hope was as sparse as the music.
With his new album Wrecking Ball, Springsteen has brought in the surviving members of the E Street Band to flesh out the sound, sometimes using the music to compliment the anger, other times masking the rage behind anthemic guitars and drums.
The result is his strongest work in years.
Back-to-back tracks “Jack of All Trades” and “Death to My Hometown” prove to be album highlights, the former being a straight-forward narrative of a man struggling to provide as the economy collapses, the latter a call-to-arms that would sound at home on a Flogging Molly record.
In “Jack of All Trades,” Springsteen sings “A hurricane blows, brings a hard rain/when the blue sky breaks, feels like the world’s gonna change” before barely hiding his sarcasm with “We’ll start caring for each other like Jesus said that we might/I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be alright.”
Borrowing from the Irish influences found on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, the new “Death to My Hometown” (the influences are also heard on “Shackled and Drawn”), finds Springsteen comparing America’s wealthiest, including bankers and other business executives, to war-mongers:
“The greedy thieves that came around
And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now
Walk the streets as free men now
And they brought death to our hometown, boys”
Springsteen pushes his own musical boundaries with a hip hop-influenced “Rocky Ground,” which features an electronic rhythm and a rap interlude, all while reverting to classic Springsteen religious imagery:
“Tend to your flock or they will stray
We’ll be called for our service come judgment day
Before we cross that river wide
Blood on our hands will come back on us twice”
But, as with most Springsteen records, even in darkness, there’s light, a ray of hope for those who keep fighting. “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a staple during the E Street reunion tour of the early 2000s, finally gets its place on an album, and its lyrics show a man giving of himself to make the world a better place:
“Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past
Big wheels roll through fields were sunlight streams
Meet me in the land of hope and dreams.”
The album concludes with “We Are Alive,” a song that reminds you that if you give of yourself, the fight is worth it. Told from the vantage point of a man in his grave, Springsteen sings:
“We are alive, and though our bodies lie alone here in the dark
Our souls and spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark
To fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
To stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart
We are alive.”
While members of the E Street Band are no longer with us, the music lives on. They are alive. We are alive, shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart. We are alive, and we are listening.
There is hope after all.