Angry Rock God

03.08.12

What Critics Say About Bruce Springsteen’s New ‘Wrecking Ball’ Album

The Boss is back with The Wrecking Ball, his much-anticipated 17th studio album and first record since 2009’s Working on a Dream.  Will the new release live up to die-hard fans’ expectations? The Daily Beast rounds up the reviews.

Angry, Anti-American Bruce Hits All the Right Notes

It’s been almost three decades since The Boss came out with the patriotic Born in the USA, and much like the rest of us, he has long since kissed the golden ’80s goodbye. Now, according to Rolling Stone, all-American Bruce has gone anti-American: “Wrecking Ball is the most despairing, confrontational and musically turbulent album Bruce Springsteen has ever made.” That’s a lot to take in, but there’s more: “He is angry and accusing in these songs, to the point of exhaustion, with grave reason. The America here is a scorched earth: razed by profiteers, and suffering a shameful erosion in truly democratic values and national charity.” All right, so Bruce’s mood is a little dark, his tone alternately gritty (“Shackled and Drawn”) and brooding (“This Depression”). Then there’s “We Take Care of Our Own,” a song Rolling Stone says is “obviously about abandoned ideals and mutual blame that no candidate would dare touch” aimed at the “heart of the republic.” Basically, the message is that America has gone to hell in a handbag. Here’s the final take: “Actually, for an election year, Wrecking Ball is a boldly apolitical record. The basic premise is that the true business of politics—responsible governing, a commerce of shared rewards—is broken, with plenty of guilt to go around. It may be a sign of how hard optimism is to come by that Springsteen covers himself here—reviving ‘Land of Hope and Dreams,’ originally released on 2001’s Live in New York City—to insist all is not lost.”

Lost in the ‘Cross Section of America’

The Boss may be angry, but at least he’s in good company among the 99 percent. Springsteen has said “Wrecking Ball” was inspired by Occupy Wall Street, and Entertainment Weekly points out that it was a shrewd move on his part—one that would appeal to his fans. “Whenever America’s falling on hard times, his music simply sounds better, his lyrics taking on near-biblical significance.” The album’s incorporation of folk, gospel, and even hip-hop resonates like a “cross section of America,” Entertainment Weekly writes: it works as a concept, but listeners may crave more nuance. The album may be inspired by the Occupy movement, but the song “Wrecking Ball” is about the destruction of Giants Stadium. “That’s the problem here: the images are so broad—every song’s got a rising flood or a train of sinners or a dead man’s moon—you’ll be dying for a detail that’s anchored in the real world, circa 2012.”

Good Tunes and Message, ‘Lackluster Songwriting’

Springsteen’s die-hard fans will be happy to find that The Boss hasn’t changed too much since his career began 40 years ago. While Rolling Stone focused on “Wrecking Ball’s angry overtones, Pitchfork finds fierce optimism beneath the dark surface: “That’s Bruce’s job—to remind us what brings people together when everything around us seems hellbent on proving the opposite.” The message of hope could be perceived as “too hokey,” but it’s what makes songs like “Land of Hope and Dreams” so powerful: “its ability to overcome self-consciousness and cynicism, a feat that’s tougher to achieve now than ever.” This, according to Pitchfork, is the album’s best song, making use of one of Bruce’s favorite metaphors, the train, which rolls along to a bluesy melody. It makes up for the album’s “stylistic flourishes that can feel gimmicky or, at worst, like dry history lessons,” and “some of the album’s lackluster songwriting.”

Bruce Just Shouldn’t Rap

The Los Angeles Times, like Rolling Stone, points out that Springsteen’s political anthems are particularly apt to resonate during an election cycle. There’s no subtlety here, and that was clearly Springsteen’s intention: “Bruce…refers to the state of America in nearly every song and understands more than anyone else that political music made in election years tends to reverberate louder.” He channels a lot of “anthemic energy” into the album through gospel, folk, blues, and even rap —yes, Bruce Springsteen raps for 16 bars in “Rocky Ground,” an attempt the Los Angeles Times can only describe as “very ill-advised.”

Potent Mix of ‘Heartland Rock’ and New Sonic Touches

Consequence of Sound agrees the Springsteen’s rap was the album’s main sore spot (“hip-hop simply doesn’t suit his style”), he still deserves props for trying to delve into such unfamiliar territory in Wrecking Ball. On the whole, the album’s new sonic flair “highlights the songs instead of overwhelming them.” It’s also proof that Springsteen is still growing as an artist, while many of his contemporaries safely stick with the tried and true. Plus, Wrecking Ball still delivers the “heartland rock” that’s synonymous with Springsteen’s music. “Bells and whistles aside, it’s a Bruce Springsteen record, and that’s why it works.”