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Wrecking Ball

Faline Bobier

March 18, 2012

Bruce Springsteen’s new album Wrecking Ball is, as he says in Rolling Stone “as direct a record as I ever made…That’s with the possible exception of Nebraska, which this record has a lot in common with.” Springsteen has also said that he was inspired by the Occupy movement when writing the songs on Wrecking Ball.

These two touchstones – Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska and the Occupy movement 30 years later – make for an album that is full of contradictions, hope and despair, anger and solidarity.

Nebraska is a somber album where Springsteen tells the story of the American underclass, of losers and the lost, with barely any hope of redemption or change. It is a beautiful, haunting work that speaks for those who have no voice.

Springsteen has always been, since the beginning of his career, the poet of working class America, in the same way as his predecessor Woody Guthrie.

As in Nebraska, each song on Wrecking Ball tells a piece of a larger story. But whereas Nebraska is the story of loners who have no way to escape their alienation other than the highway, hard living and violence that is inevitably turned inward, Wrecking Ball is about turning that anger outwards towards the people who are responsible for the current state of America.

‘Death to my Hometown’ is an obvious allusion to the bittersweet nostalgia of ‘My Hometown’ on 1984′s Born in the U.S.A., where the protagonist laments the death of his hometown through economic crisis and unemployment – “Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to Your hometown”.

But the tone of “Death to my Hometown” on the new CD is completely different. It’s one of righteous anger against those who are killing ordinary people’s hopes and dreams, along with the towns and the cities they live in. And they are clearly identified – these bankers and robber barons. As the song says “No shells ripped the evening sky/No cities burning down/No army stormed the shores for which we’d die/No dictators were crowned…the marauders raided in the dark/And brought death to my home town”.

The rousing music in this track is like a call to battle – at once joyous and angry. Springsteen exhorts: “Now get yourself a song to sing/Sing it hard and sing it well/Send the robber barons straight to hell/The greedy thieves who came around and ate the flesh of everything they found/Whose crimes have gone unpunished now/Who walk the streets as free men now”.

Wrecking Ball melds together many musical traditions – country (there is a borrowing from the signature Johnny Cash/June Carter tune ‘Ring of Fire’ on one track), folk, traditional ballad, gospel music and even a little rap. It has something of the feel of his 2006 release We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions in which Springsteen, with a large cast of musicians and singers, revives classic Seeger songs.

These are hard songs that speak of the economic despair of working class America. Whatever faith Springsteen may once have had in Obama is long gone -“The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone”, he says in the first track on the album, We Take Care of our Own. But there is a spirit of revolt and solidarity and pure joy that runs through the CD and makes it an anthem for the 99%.

The last track on the album ‘We are Alive’ makes it clear that the only way to win, or at least to put up a good fight, is for the disenfranchised to come together. Springsteen brings together struggles past and present to show the continuity of resistance:

A voice cried I was killed in Maryland in 1877/When the railroad workers made their stand/I was killed in 1963/One Sunday morning in Birmingham/I died last year crossing the southern desert/My children left behind in San Pablo/Well they’ve left our bodies here to rot/Oh please let them know/We are alive/And though we lie alone/Here in the dark/Our souls will rise/To carry the fire and light the spark/To fight shoulder to shoulder and/Heart to heart

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