Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball
Still a working-class hero with populist melodies to burn
Thirty-nine years after the release of his debut album, Bruce Springsteen continues to not suck. If that seems like faint praise, consider his most decorated contemporaries. Has any singer-songwriter in pop history had such a long streak of success, with so few missteps? Certainly Bob Dylan has hit the skids from time to time, to say nothing of rough patches from the likes of Paul Simon, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen. And yet here is the Boss, with his 17th album, still a working-class hero with populist melodies to burn. Wrecking Ball is among his angriest records, a convincing musical coda to Occupy Wall Street, an empathetic millionaire’s meditation on the struggles and prejudice that mock the American Dream. “The hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out,” he snarls on the Pogues-channeling immigrant’s tale “American Land,” and as long as that’s the case, Springsteen will never run out of material. The theme reverberates even more loudly on “Land of Hope and Dreams,” the record’s seven-minute centerpiece, which quotes the protest anthem “People Get Ready” and celebrates the saints, sinners, losers, winners, whores, gamblers and lost souls that make America America. (And after all that, manages to throw in a big whomping sax solo from late E Street Band sideman Clarence Clemons.) “There’s a new day coming,” he assures us on “Rocky Ground.” “I want everybody to stand up and be counted tonight,” Lyn Collins hollers in a soul sample on “Shackled and Drawn.” The title track itself is a dare: “Come on and take your best shot/ Let me see what you got/ Bring on your wrecking ball.” The idea is that Springsteen, and Springsteen’s America, can absorb any blow without ever breaking. When the song explodes into galloping drums and blasting brass, you can’t help believing it’s true.