Mar 072012

The opening synth squeaks and electronic handclaps of “We Take Care of Our Own,” the kick-off single from Bruce Springsteen‘s Wrecking Ball album, makes me wonder if Bruce and His E Street Band have been hi-jacked by Modern English. The mix further ups the play for a “contemporary” sound with tepid use of early ’90s-style vocal echo gently nudging along The Boss’ opening lines. Springsteen and His occasional repetitive synth riff songs (eg, “Born in the USA”) are strange birds in the catalog, but the repetition allows the “visionary” furor of His lyrics a chance to develop into something admirable—if you can get through the bombast of the songs’ opening minutes. I feel that’s the case with the new single.

So much about the song’s arrangement screams OUT OF TOUCH, but you know what? Ever since I saw the song performed at the start of the GRAMMYS, minus some of the cheesy studio trimmings and plus all the spirit provided by a brigade of trim, exuberant, middle-aged musicians I forgave the song’s sins; I forgave Springsteen’s never-ending efforts at encompassing humanity’s slim, profound hope in the face of epic struggle. In fact, as I find myself doing once a decade or so with Springsteen and as I did that night watching the opening of the GRAMMYS, I embraced his never-ending quest of painting humanity in an admirable light. Someone’s gotta do the job he does. It’s worthy work in a world full of shallow, hateful ploys for notoriety—and you can tap your foot to it.

Modern-day Springsteen records and TV appearances make me want to get in shape: exercise, eat healthy, buy some new jeans. They make me feel like sending the kids off to my parents’ house so I can get in some quality time with the wife. They make me want to do something useful for society, like hammer some nails into studs or whatever at a Habitat for Humanity site. When the E Street Band backs up Bruce’s “whoas” on “Wrecking Ball” with their own exhortations I want to go on Facebook and look up that girl from North Jersey I had a crush on freshman year. But what are the odds I’d find her? She had a common Anglo name, and beside, she’s probably married now.

After a run of disposable John Mellencamp hoedown-style songs involving, I believe, musicians from The Seger Sessions and more recently outdated ’90s touches like samples of “authentic” African American field hollers and whatnot, a song called “Land of Hope and Dreams” caught my ear. It features, I presume, one of Clarence Clemons‘ last recorded sax solos, which I found surprisingly moving. The album’s Rock ‘n Roll Iwo Jima moment coalesces on this song, with the band’s stately, manly majesty; the folksy stringed instruments of add-on E Streeters; and an implied robed choir leaning in toward their gritty leader. At times like this Bruce should run for President.

Then, just as I’m ready to pull the lever and vote Boss the album closes with “We Are Alive.” The cornball optimism, unanimity, and sense of purpose go overboard as a twangy Hollywood Western movie  guitar-and-whistling intro kicks in. Springsteen’s sense of “we” has expanded well beyond the romantic, personal or tribal notion of the word in his earlier works. I rarely felt part of his original “we,” but I knew who they were. When he sang in the first person plural—”baby we were born to run”—”we” referred to the song’s narrator and his girl, or the narrator and his social scene or community, any extension of his hometown. Over the years Springsteen’s community, or perhaps perceived constituency, has grown to encompass the entire United States. The fact that Bruce tries to bring all of us, all of our concerns and hopes and dreams under one big tent is often admirable, sometimes inspiring, but ultimately suffocating. It’s one thing to find myself standing next to a Candy or a Spanish Johnny now and then, but quite another to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the hard-bitten, anonymous masses waiting for deliverance from the Ballad of Tom Joad set with an encore of “Rosalita.”


  17 Responses to “Insta-Review: Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball

  1. tonyola

    I saw a review for this album in the Huffington Post that makes reference to “clenched fury”. Clenched is a great word to describe Bruce – his face, his teeth, his voice, his music, and probably his asshole. Very tightly clenched.

  2. jeangray

    “…middle-aged musicians…”???
    If that’s what you call them, then Ima fucking teen-ager!

  3. Hank Fan

    I heard a couple of songs on the radio. Found it to be rather horrifying. Both the lyrics and music were deep into cliche land.

    You put on your coat I’ll put on my hat
    You put out the dog I’ll put out the cat
    You put on your red dress for me tonight, honey
    We’re going on the town now looking for easy money


  4. tonyola

    Isn’t Brucie a little old to be playing the pimp? And shouldn’t she put on the red dress before putting on the coat?

  5. True, that the “We Take Care of Our Own” is a synth riff like a lot of the Born in the USA but I’m not hearing the 80’s production. And isn’t this a live clip from the Grammy opening? My primary thought about this one is it sounds purposefully written to play the anthem behind all of the future Obama re-election campaign events. I suspect we’ll be hearing this until we’re sick of it.

  6. tonyola

    A line from “We Take Care of Our Own”:

    “The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone.”

    Mixed metaphors, anyone? Sloppy, Bruce.

  7. I’ve given it several spins this week and I kind of like the title track and Dealth To My Hometown, but this will likely go on the stack of Springsteen albums I don’t listen too very much.

    Maybe Mellencamp is a poor man’s Springsteen — but I’ll take his output over the last 20 years over Bruce’s any day. If I’m going to listen to this kinid of stuff — give me Mellencamp and Steve Earle. I heard Earle’s Hardcore Troubadour on XM radio the other day and got a little wistful for early Springsteen. Here’s a well-fed Earle doing his pretty good Springsteen-style romp.

  8. I recently did some studio work for a guy who was an assistant engineer on the “Born in the USA” album. He had the gold record on the wall with his name on it so I believed him. He said they started with 82 songs and whittled them down to the 12 on the record. He even had a few demos of songs that didn’t make it, some may be on “Wrecking Ball”, I don’t know. He also had a great story about the origin of “Dancin’ in the Dark”.

  9. Please share that story, if you can. That’s actually one of my favorite Springsteen songs, as weird as that may seem.

    Wow, if one starts with 82 songs that far into one’s career – any artist – I wonder how hard it is to lop off the first 30 turds.

  10. I’ll have to state, I have no way of verifying this but the story came in the wee hours and did not seem to me to be boastful. It was believable.

    My friend, I’ll call him JD (I’m just a little uncomfortable naming him but I’m not sure why) is my age 52 so he would have been in his 20’s then. He worked for “The Hit Factory” in NY. He was the guy with the keys to the studio so he was the first one there and the last to leave. He ran all the chords, set up the mikes, got Chinese food, stuff like that. The go to guy. It took 2 years and he said he was a wreck by the end of it. He would get home just as his girlfriend was leaving for work around 5:00AM then back in at 10:30 or 11:00. He was catching hell about it. He described himself as “very grubby”.

    E Street records everything at once live. They use very few (if any) overdubs and do it again and again until they get the perfect take. One of the last songs was “Pink Cadillac”. When they finally got it late one night they gathered in the control room, turned down the lights and listened to it. They liked what they heard. It was loud and they were all dancing around. JD said it was a magic night and everybody was very satisfied.

    Soon after, JD was winding up chords and Bruce came in to chat which wasn’t unusual. He asked if he had a girlfriend and JD told him about the hell he was catching. He wasn’t really complaining but by this time it was clear he was exhausted, needed a haircut, some new jeans and a hot bath. He told Bruce it was all worth it when they spent times like the other night whooping it up and dancing around in the dark.

  11. That’s a great story. Thanks, and thanks to your friend for sharing in the first place.

  12. I’ll save the one about Chrisite Brinkley when Billy Joel was working on Glass Houses.

  13. alexmagic

    Bruce came in to chat which wasn’t unusual. He asked if he had a girlfriend and JD told him about the hell he was catching.

    I wonder if Bruce was going to offer to set JD up with his new friend Julianne Phillips, but decided to go out with her himself once he found out JD had a lady at home already.

  14. Naw, singers don’t share their chicks until they are done with them. Drummers, maybe. Roadies, definitely.

  15. alexmagic

    Yeah, but this is The Boss. He takes care of his own!

  16. I’m a big Springsteen fan and consider Magic to be one of his top records (2007?) and I like the new one, but the 16-piece band is a little much live and the 2-piece band is a little over-overdubbed on the record. It’s a mix of the E Street Band and the Seger sessions band (actually it sounds like both playing at once live)

    I think of it as a decent chapter of a really good book.

    I like it better than Working On A Dream which was (and sounded like) a bunch of leftovers.

    This record at least sound like it was created on purpose,even if three of the songs had already been released (Wrecking Ball, American Land and Land Of Hope and Dreams all had official live releases in the 2000’s)

    I listened non-stop this last week and have now moved on to the Apollo Theater show from Sirius/XM (which you can listen to here >> )

    I think I will go back to the new Van Halen soon

  17. BigSteve

    I haven;’t heard the new one yet, but yeah Magic was really strong. I don’t know how he did it, but I don’t expect him to do that regularly.

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