Bruce Springsteen: A Universal, Original 'Wrecking Ball' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Bruce Springsteen: A Universal, Original 'Wrecking Ball'

Play associated audio

It's not difficult to guess what the over-arching theme might be on an album Bruce Springsteen characterizes as being "as direct as any I ever made." The title song from Wrecking Ball is one he wrote a few years ago to commemorate the demolition of Giants Stadium in New Jersey. It was written from the point of view of the stadium, but in its new context, the wrecking ball is a symbol of the implacable forces that have wrecked the economy for millions of people. Government policy, banks and politicians are among those wielding the wrecking ball that, to Springsteen's way of thinking, is putting dents in, if not shattering, many people's souls.

In "Jack of All Trades," Springsteen sings in the character of a kind of universal laborer, eager for work yet bitter — there's a verse about how the "banker man grows fat, working man grows thin / It's all happened before, and it'll happen again." But the song takes a surprising turn at the end; replacing resignation is rebellion, with the narrator saying that if he had a gun, he'd shoot those who exploit him. The song is something of a purposeful mess. The point of view shifts constantly, from that of a man begging for a job to one addressing a lover with the assurance, "Honey, we'll be all right," back to that guy whose despair has moved him to violence. It's all underscored by a guitar line from Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. Ultimately, the song is an unruly creation that works because of the music, which is rich with a ripe melancholy and a subtly relentless pace that moves you toward that violence before you realize what's being sung. Indeed, it's the music you have to heed before the lyrics throughout Wrecking Ball.

"Death to My Hometown," a kind of bleak sequel to Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. song "My Hometown," is an Irish jig that moves with jaunty aggressiveness. The album's first single, "We Take Care of Our Own," is a full-bore blast of sound that could easily be the kick-off song on any given night of the tour Springsteen and his E Street Band are commencing with the release of this album. But Springsteen works with co-producer Ron Aniello to create something less monolithic than an E Street Band record; it's a Springsteen album made with a wide variety of musicians and technology. Tape loops and samples are deployed to make sonic collages. In "Rocky Ground," Springsteen has even written a rap verse.

When I first got a finished CD of Wrecking Ball, I looked quickly at the credits for "Rocky Ground" and thought it read, "featured vocal by Michael Moore." Turns out it was gospel singer Michelle Moore in that song, but there's so much sociopolitical content on Wrecking Ball that it wouldn't have surprised me at all if The Boss had cajoled the agitprop filmmaker into howling a verse about, say, the present state of labor unions. Still, one of the ways to miss the most significant achievements of Wrecking Ball is to concentrate on the lyrics and not appreciate what Springsteen is doing with the music here. It's a marvelously diverse creation, drawing upon and uniting so many American periods and styles of popular music that it creates a very effective tension: The lyrics may speak of despair, but the music testifies to bottomless ingenuity, invention and, yes, exhilaration.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Advice For Trevor Noah From The 'Jon Stewart Of South Africa'

The Daily Show isn't the only fake news show around. South Africa has Late Nite News, starring comedian Loyiso Gola. We asked him how he feels about Noah's new job — and what advice he has to offer.
NPR

The Revival Of Lamb Ham: A Colonial Tradition Renewed

British colonialists brought lamb ham to America, where a sugar-cured, smoked variety became popular. Easier-to-cure pork ham eventually took its place, but now two Virginians are bringing it back.
WAMU 88.5

Legal Cloud Lifts For Controversial Alexandria Waterfront Plan

Thanks to a recent ruling of the Virginia Supreme Court in Richmond, developers now have a green light to start demolishing a series of old abandoned warehouses and building structures in Alexandria that are much larger than what's there now.
NPR

If Drones Make You Nervous, Think Of Them As Flying Donkeys

In Africa, where there aren't always roads from Point A to Point B, drones could take critical medicines to remote spots. But the airborne vehicles make people uneasy for lots of reasons.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.