In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a guy in the next car leaned over to Bruce Springsteen at a traffic light. “We need you now,” the man said. The resulting album was 2002’s hugely acclaimed The Rising, Bruce’s stirring address on the state of his fractured, fearful homeland and a reminder that Springsteen was always one of America’s most unifying social commentators. A decade on, America needs him again.
An economy in collapse, industries failing, communities crushed; the Bossocalypse has descended and it’s Springsteen’s duty, on this sublime seventeen studio album, to lambast the demolition crew (Bush, the bankers), document the wreckage and dig out some shrapnel of hope.
Album opener We Take Care Of Our Own employs the old Born In The USA trick of appearing initially patriotic – ‘Wherever this flag’s flown, we take care of our own’, the chorus bellows over a classic E Street bar-room blitz, suggesting a country stoutly protecting its citizens worldwide – before unfolding verses admonish widespread social selfishness and the government ignoring the plight of the Katrina poor and ensuring the rich stay rich in this turbulent monetary climate.
Elsewhere Springsteen’s ire is even more starkly targeted. Death To My Hometown, with its African choirs running head-on into Yankee doodling tin-whistles, reads like a lament for a shrivelling America, entire towns quietly suffocated in their sleep. The chain-gang imagery of Shackled And Drawn becomes a metaphor for the ever-noble working man breaking rocks while ‘up on banker’s hill the party’s going strong’.
Whether broken and despondent on The Depression or defiantly taunting the national calamity on the stadium-storming title track, Bruce is never less than brutal, biting, or bristling with fresh ways to modernise his folkish rock’n’roll roots. There’s a freshness and rejuvenation to Wrecking Ball right up to Clarence Clemons’s magnificent sax swansong atop the rousing power folk of Land Of Hope And Dreams in which The Boss, clearly still born to run, hops a train away from the world and its problems, the rest of humanity – the whores and gamblers, fools and kings – in tow.
It’s a somewhat corny and fantastical escape from the album’s insurmountable troubles, true, but as a roiling State Of The Nation from America’s blue collar statesman, Wrecking Ball will go some way to lifting America’s modern murk.