Is The New Bruce Sprinsteen Album THE SHIT Or Just Shit??

When faced with the idea of listening to a new Bruce Springsteen album these days, unless you're a hardcore fan, the prospect can be a daunting one. After all, Bruce has become the sort of artist who just doesn't give a fuck and, as a result, can be a little unpredictable. Will he decide to record a bunch of Woody Guthrie tunes, or create a conceptual narrative in the form of a baker's dozen acoustic folk tunes about broken souls in depressing times? Or will he goes balls-to-the-wall with the remaining members of the E Street Band and make the kind of Bruce album that every Boss fanatic has been waiting for all these years?

On "Wrecking Ball", his seventeenth studio album, Bruce Springsteen answers these questions with a resounding "none of the above".

The album opens with "We Take Care Of Our Own", an elegiac mid-tempo rocker that is a pleasant enough track, but is it really the sort of tune with which to announce the arrival of a new Bruce album? More importantly, where does this tune fall within the pantheon of legendary Bruce tunes? If it had been written during the "Born To Run" sessions, for example, would it have made the album?

Now, if you're of the mind that it's somehow unfair to compare his new material to the songs for which he is best known, this is where you and I must agree to disagree. So many times, it seems such legacy acts get a pass simply because they've been around so long. As a result, we fans are so often treated to albums that, for lack of a better word, suck.

Let's face it, the only folks who bought "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" were those who did so out of a sense of obligation to their hero. Of course, "Wrecking Ball" is a much more accessible record, but is it a record that the Bruce of yester-year would have signed off on?

On “Easy Money” and “Shackled And Drawn” - both pleasant enough tracks with a bit of a Celtic jaunt - I find myself wondering if this is Bruce being Bruce, or Bruce trying to be The Pogues and if such songs would have made it onto “The River” or “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” back in the day.

Now, even as I say this, I can hear some of you saying, “Hey, a mediocre Bruce record is still better than most records being put out these days”, and I would tend to agree, but I can’t help think that a certain level of complacency creeps into a legend’s life after their bank account balance hits seven digits. Let’s face it, “Mojo” is not the sort of album Tom Petty circa 1979 would have put out. If he had, he’d have found his skinny ass back in Gainesville before he knew what hit him.

See, once Mickey Mantle becomes Mickey Mantle, he can’t ever go back to being anything less. It just isn’t how the game is played. That’s why Michael Jordan gave up baseball and went back to being “Michael Jordan”. He couldn’t settle for being mediocre, or just another dude riding the pines.

“Jack Of All Trades” is as heartfelt a song as you’re ever gonna hear this year, BUT the piano riff and chord progression are so predictable that a fifth grader can tell what the next change will be. That wasn’t the case with songs like “Something In The Night” from “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” or “The River” from the album of the same name.

See, when Bruce was just beginning to fill the shoes he’s now been wearing for nigh on thirty years, each twist and turn that his music took was such a breath of fresh air that it forever endeared him to a legion of people who have followed his every move ever since. Thing is, I guess there are only so many notes, so many words, and so many twists & turns in the world that now it all seems a tad too familiar. But is this because, in the years since “Born To Run” put him on the map, everything truly has been done, or is it because Bruce is falling back on well-worn progressions and formulas rather than blaze his own trail?

On “Death To My Hometown”, the level of familiarity reaches even newer heights and I can’t help believe that Bruce has forgotten how to be Bruce. He sure has figured out how to be Shane MacGowan, though. Is “Springsteen” an Irish name? (Turns out Bruce is of Dutch, Irish and Italian descent, according to my good pal Bill.)

“This Depression” breaks from the Celtic thunder long enough to establish a soulful, vulnerable connection with the listener. This is the sort of song to build an album around, as it paints a picture of an older, wiser man still searching for answers to the burning questions that he had in his mind when he began this musical journey. Better still, from a musical standpoint, this is a song that you can’t necessarily see coming down the turnpike. It takes you somewhere you didn’t expect to go, which puts it right up there with his best recent work.

“Wrecking Ball” follows and, while a certain familiarity is instantly apparent, it sounds like old-school Bruce and, most importantly, the sort of song that he and the E Streeters will pull out on tour to blow your hair back, if not clean off.

“Rocky Ground” is a song that, even after repeated listens, leaves me slack-jawed. It’s such a departure for Bruce…heightened by a soulful female refrain that initially left me wondering if somebody slipped a CeCe Winans solo record into my player while I wasn’t looking. Whether the song itself works or not hinges upon the fact that I still have no idea what Bruce was going for on this track. On one hand, it’s awesome to see a guy like Bruce be so courageous, to follow a song where it goes instead of force it to go somewhere he wants it to go, but at what point should Bruce have said, “You go your way, I will go mine”?

“Land Of Hope & Dreams”, not exactly the most original title, or the most original song on the planet, but it oozes old-school E Street band and one can imagine it being pulled out in-concert, giving you a chance to hit the restroom or grab another plastic cup of overpriced domestic brew and a corn dog. I kid, I kid.

Album closer “ We Are Alive” is a sweeping, cinematic period piece that, again, doesn’t seem to be anything a younger Springsteen would have embraced, but is definitely the sort of roots music that legacy artists seem to so eagerly embrace as they get older.

All things considered, “Wrecking Ball” is the sort of album that seems a little too pieced together from three different albums Springsteen might have made. Instead, The Boss has given us an album that seems intent on making as many different segments of his fan base happy while, at the same time, keeping a little happiness for himself. Indulgent, yes, but not overly so, which is a victory in the grand scheme of things. It gives the E Street Band a reason to tour, which is reason enough for many.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

1 comment:

  1. rubbish bloke, rubbish songs.! overrated hack