Wrecking Ball (2012)


1. We Take Care of Our Own 2. Easy Money 3. Shackled and Drawn 4. Jack of All Trades 5. Death to My Hometown 6. This Depression 7. Wrecking Ball 8. You've Got It 9. Rocky Ground 10. Land of Hopes and Dreams 11. We Are Alive -Bonus Tracks- 12. Swallowed Up (in the Belly of a Whale) 13. American Land

 

This is one of those records that, before it was released, it managed to fool me and remind me that I can never take the man for granted, nor predict exactly what his intentions are. The man had been in a bit of creative slump as of late. Even though his last few releases of new albums were considered "pretty good" by most, they were nowhere close to being one of those many "classics" that he had released during various times during his brilliant career. Then, you had the fact that many were (rightly) accusing the guy of being a bit too dark, dreary and pessimistic all the time. So when The Boss announced, prior to this album's release, that this record was one of the "darkest things he ever recorded" (or something like that), you couldn't help but moan and groan because it meant that we were going to be lectured by The Boss about how crappy our country was etc. etc.

Fortunately, although the album is dark, Springsteen remembers that he's primary a musician, and this album has some of his best pure music ever. I guess that statement could be based on a matter of taste, but I'm one of those fans that has appreciated many of his styles throughout his career, so to me, great music is great music - regardless of what the overall sound might be. In a strange way, the music here very closely resembles We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Session, in that this group of songs is very, loose, rollicking, spontaneous, and overall a heck of a lot of fun. Songs such as the title cut, Shackled and Drawn, Easy Money, and even the dreary titled Death to My Hometown command the listener to get up off the couch, grab a partner, and boogie around the living room. Quite a feat when the subject matter is a bit on the depressing side.

The whole album is not in this vein (although some may wish it was), yet most of the time the changing styles and sounds don't bring the experience down at all. The leadoff track and first single We Take Care of Our Own has a bit of bite and grab that sounds as if it were a leftover from The Rising, Jack of All Trades is a bit of a tear-jerker, although the strong music behind the lyrics make it easily accessible, and Rocky Ground is a bit of diversion, with its soulful, gospel-ish, spoken-rap infusions, yet most fans will embrace this one warmly as well. Possibly the best song on the album is, ironically Land of Hope and Dreams. Ironic, because, although a great tune, it is by no means "new" - it's been in Springsteen's repertoire at shows for well over a decade. He manages to make a brilliant studio counterpart here, that sounds oh so strong and oh so fresh. It might be easy for a fan to have picked up this cd for the first time and be disappointed to see a familiar tune that they already know, but the negative feeling goes away quickly upon first hearing this standout track.

There are a couple of letdowns. This Depression never really catches the necessary fire to be enjoyable, and Swallowed Up (in the Belly of a Whale) (a "bonus" track), is a bit thick and dreary. Speaking of bonus tracks, the other one is the standard Americana tune American Land which, like The Land of Hopes and Dreams is not new (it was also a "bonus" track on We Shall Overcome: The Pete Seeger Sessions), and its inclusion here is a bit of a mystery. This version isn't that much different from the last.

This record is just one more classic to his seemingly endless streak of masterpieces - and one that I wasn't really expecting. Well played.


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