Bruce Springsteen says Wrecking Ball has a lot in common with Nebraska, his sixth album from 1982. Supposedly this 11-song collection started out originally with just him and his guitar - like Nebraska - but producer Rob Aniello introduced his huge library of sounds, like hip-hop drum loops and country-blues stomps. The Boss was encouraged to explore some new sonic landscapes. Consequently, he didn't use the entire E Street Band on the album, just a couple longtime members like Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg.
"We Take Care Of Our Own" has this cool tribal beat and single-note guitar line, but kind of heads to where you'd expect when Springsteen waxes commercial. "Easy Money" follows, a more interesting tune with a cool percussion loop, Springsteen's usual country-style yodel (the guy is from south Jersey, after all), a lyric clearly inciting Wall Street, and some truly get-up-and-dance rhythms. "Shackled And Drawn" is not much different, but it has a nice and expansive chorus. After all the faux country, I was more than ready for the piano-driven waltz of "Jack Of All Trades," about as pretty as anything Springsteen has ever written, featuring a stunning horn solo and some soaring guitar at its climatic end.
I'm not sure how to describe "Death To My Hometown," but it is certainly a great stomper. Springsteen's voice sounds nearly unrecognizable and there are Celtic influences as well as a great backing chorus. The title track is one of the better Bruce Springsteen songs in years. He steals from himself a bit in what the horns, and later the fiddle, play. Even though the ending is a bit of a cliché, I got chills on my first few listens.
Unfortunately we're back to the Boss channeling his down-home-ness on "You Got It," which is notable for some inspired Marc Muller pedal steel. Still, somebody has got to tell Springsteen that adding loops here and there doesn't make his ill-fated stabs at being Woody Guthrie any more palatable!
"Rocky Ground" is probably the most interesting tune here, opening with a tight drum loop, female vocals from the Victorious Gospel Choir, and some Biblical themes in the lyric - themes Springsteen has skirted but has never really gotten this close to. With a Springsteen-penned rap by Michelle Moore, this is sonically, one of the richest tunes I have ever heard from the man - screaming in the background, loops and keys and horns. Things stay pretty gospel on "Land Of Hope And Dreams," the only tune to feature the dearly departed Clarence 'Big Man' Clemons on sax and a song Springsteen fans are quite familiar with as the band has been performing it live since 1999. Here, it is reworked with a gospel choir and electronic drums.
"We Are Alive" is one hell of a western. I love how Springsteen lightens it up (even if the lyric isn't so light) with some great Greg Leisz banjo perfectly placed. What a classy way to end these 11 tunes. For me, a huge Springsteen fan, Wrecking Ball is an interesting hodge-podge. It doesn't work for me all the time (too much yodeling and country for my tastes), but there are some powerful songs. I miss the tightness and camaraderie of Springsteen and the E Streeters, but I applaud the singer-songwriter for branching out and trying new things.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.