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Bruce Springsteen's State of the Union address
on March 24, 2012
Bruce Springsteen is angry. Angry about the way his country is going and angry that the rich keep getting richer at the expense of everybody else. Well, maybe he should get angry more often because it's pushed him into writing his best music in quite some time.
This is NOT an E Street Band album although some of them help out on a few tracks. Auxiliary members Soozie Tyrell and Charlie Giordano are all over the place and Steve Van Zandt and Max Weinberg show up on a few cuts each. Bruce recorded most of the album with his new producer Ron Aniello and then had various musicians add their parts later. Nothing new there as that's the way he recorded '"Tunnel of Love"'.
He brought along some of the elements used on '"We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions"' such as a large horn section and Celtic rhythms but he also uses choirs, loops and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine on guitar. Loops are nothing new, either, as he used one as a backing track to '"Streets of Philadelphia"'.
The first half of the album refers to the state that the U.S. has found itself in and about the rising tide of anger being felt throughout the country as symbolized by the Occupy Movement. Several songs mention the '"fat cats'" and how they're making all the money and the rest of the country is paying for it.
"'Gambling man rolls the dice, workingman pays the bill,
It's still fat and easy up on bankers'' hill
Up on banker's' hill, the party''s going strong
Down here below we're shackled and drawn.'"
In "'Death To My Hometown"' (an update of "'My Hometown"' from "'Born in the U.S.A."') he talks about the death of cities like Detroit with its 90,000 abandoned homes and he suggests that the common people stand together to '"send the robber barons straight to hell"'.
In '"Easy Money"' he tells the story of a man and woman who head out one night to commit a crime to make money because that's what everyone else seems to be doing. And in the lead off track "'We Take Care of Our Own"' he wonders what happened to the idea that governments are in place to help everyone and not just the rich and asks what happened to "'the promise from sea to shining sea'" that his country was founded on. He refers to what happened to New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina when the government abandoned the inhabitants of the city to their fate.
'"From Chicago to New Orleans, from the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome
There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home."'
The tone of despair begins to change about half way through the album with the title song which was originally written about the tearing down of the Meadowlands Arena in New Jersey but here stands as a song of defiance to the powers that be to do their worst but that the average people of America are tougher than they think. "''C'mon and take your best shot, let's see what you got, bring on your wrecking ball'." (Why should Canadians care about this stuff? Because our government is pushing us toward a similar American style system where it's every man for himself.)
And then, like a Bruce Springsteen concert, comes hope with two songs that could only be described as gospel complete with choir. I have no idea what Bruce's religious beliefs are (if any) but these are two of the most uplifting songs he's ever written. One ("'Rocky Ground"' featuring gospel singer Michelle Moore) states that "'Jesus said the money changers in his temple will not stand"' and that there's a new day coming.
Next is "'Land of Hope and Dreams"', one of the best songs Springsteen has ever written, and a gospel song if there ever was one. (Not bad for a failed Catholic altar boy.) This is a new studio version of a song we've heard before based on the old gospel song '"This Train"' but where that song was exclusive of anyone that wasn't religious this one includes everyone even '"whores and gamblers"' and "'lost souls"'. And through the wonders of technology it has Clarence Clemons blowing his heart out for us one last time.
And finally, the song '"We Are Alive"' which imagines departed ancestors encouraging the living to fight "'shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart'" to weather the storm and make a better day.
Bruce hasn''t sounded particularly inspired for the last few years but he certainly does here and it's driven him to produce an album that's stronger than his last two offerings, "'Magic"' and '"Working On A Dream'". "'Wrecking Ball"' is his best rock and roll album since '"The Rising'".