So begins The Boss’s Great Recession album with the bitter, ironic bombast of We Take Care of our Own. Springsteen throughout his career has gone through many phases and guises – both solo and with the legendary E-Street Band. From his early funk and Dylanesque musings to the breakthrough rock giant that is Born to Run, from the bleaker and more elegiac material in The River to the stadium pomp of Born in the USA, to the country and folk authenticity of the Seeger sessions, there has been one thread of continuity throughout his work. He has always sought to be a voice for the desperate and dispossessed, for the ordinary working people of America - white, black, latino – who are both simultaneously crushed and inspired by the American Dream. In the wake of the Great Recession in the US this album continues that honourable thread and perhaps reaches its apotheosis.
A prominent supporter of Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential election campaign, one can almost hear Springsteen’s seething frustration and disappointment at the lack of real change pour from the speakers in this bare-knuckled punch in the face to America’s banking and establishment class.
Musically and lyrically, this album should be a must buy both for Boss aficionados and a wider audience. In terms of both it bears comparison to his best work, and contains a number of instant classics with great hummable tunes that you could play alongside Thunder Road or Rosalita without any drop in quality. What makes it distinctive is that it is undoubtedly his most political and angry work. There is just one bluesy love song on the album – the superbly crafted You’ve Got It – the rest are all anthems for working people, and in particular the jobless, the homeless and dispossessed in the contemporary US.
This is not a bleak album, however. As well as bitterness and anger, there is also defiance, hope, and calls to arms for a better world.
Best tracks? The jaunty rock of Easy Money provides cognitive dissonance with the black story contained in its lyrics. And look out for the rockabilly gospel of Shackled and Drawn. The outstanding track of the first half however, has to be the deeply moving and wonderfully sung Jack of all Trades.
The second half of the album begins with the come ahead anthem of defiance that is the titular Wrecking Ball. The gospel R&B of Rocky Ground provides a more subtle mood, resonant of a different musical and American tradition – that of the black civil rights movement. Finally the album closes with its two great calls to arms, the stadium pleaser Land of Hope and Dreams, featuring a posthumous sax solo from the late, great Clarence Clemons, and the dance along Mexicana of We are Alive.
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…
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.
I defy you to listen and not punch your fist in the air.