"Hard times come and hard times go...," Bruce Springsteen repeats like a mantra on the title track to his volcanic new Wrecking Ball. With each pass, the lyrics intensify, magnifying an omni present urgency until the song reaches its deflating resolution ("... just to come again").
Wrecking Ball is an album of the times. Its tone is rich but desperate, topical but not political and rocking in about a dozen ways. Where 2009's Working on a Dream was essentially a pop diversion, Wrecking Ball is a morning eye-opener, a shot glass full of rock spirits that surveys the crumbling contours of the American Dream that so much of Springsteen's past music celebrated. Here, bankers and power brokers run the show as the working class strives to maintain. And that imbalance sets in motion some very uncomfortable sagas.
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The ragged hoedown Easy Money, for example, depicts a couple getting dolled up for an evening of casual robbery ("I got a Smith & Wesson .38, I got a hellfire and I got me a taste"), while the far starker Jack of All Trades centers on protagonists hit hard by unemployment but willing to adjust to any labor or skill to survive ("I'll take the work that God provides").
Musically, Wrecking Ball in an amalgamation. While Springsteen's familiar and anthemic E Street Band sound dominates, there are strong references to the hootenanny folk style of his Seeger Sessions band and the spare, dark narrative sound of 2005's Devils & Dust album. With a new producer (Ron Aniello in for Brendan O'Brien) and a massive roster of players (most of the E Street-ers, a string section, brass section and a full gospel choir), the sound of Wrecking Ball is as big as its emotive scope — from the percussive battle cry of We Take Care of Our Own, which opens the album, to the closing, Pogues-style mash-up reprise of the Seeger Sessions' American Land.
Within these tales of hard times, though, are two bona fide Boss classics.
The first is the aforementioned title tune, which actually takes the demolition of Giants Stadium as its cue. But when placed within the album's larger narrative reach, it simply explodes. A hoedown tune of sorts, its chorus ("bring on your wrecking ball") becomes reflective of the faith that remains resilient throughout the album.
The other is Land of Hope and Dreams, which has been an E Street encore tune since the late '90s. Here, in studio form, the song is all gospel fury, a journey of salvation filled with sinners and lost souls that finds "dreams will not be thwarted ... faith will be rewarded." Hope and Dreams reaches its zenith with the final recorded sax blasts of Clarence Clemons, who died in June. Talk about a payoff.
Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Writer