Wrecking Ball

I vowed to ignore the hype this time around and wait till the dust had died down before considering Springsteen‘s latest album. I’ve also waited a couple of months before thinking about writing a review. I’m trying to wean myself of writing reviews in any case, especially the kind that deliver verdicts or recommendations.

Most Springsteen releases over the past 15 years or so have passed me by. In no particular order, I got mildly excited and then disappointed by The Rising, ignored Tom Joad, largely ignored Magic. Were there others? I don’t remember. *scoots over to check iTunes*. Oh yeah, Working on a Dream, Devils and Dust, The Promise archives and a host of live things. To my ears, most of it is too gruff, too long, too busy, over-produced, with too many instruments crowding the mix (especially the live material: I maintain that you need either Nils Lofgren or Steve Van Zandt, but not both).

My last live experience, at Milton Keynes for the Human Touch tour was a disappointment, and I had in fact moved on, which is how I was able to contain my excitement and wait to download Wrecking Ball. In the meantime, a couple of E Street Band members have died, and it seems Springsteen was able to soldier on without them—and me.

Every now and then, you get sick of what’s in your music collection and crave some new sounds. So Wrecking Ball has been knocking around on the iPod for a couple of months, tracks popping up now and then, and I’ve sometimes listened to the actual album, too, though that’s a rare occurrence these days. iTunes killed the album star, or something.

I bought the iTunes LP version (irony), with a couple of bonus tracks, making it even longer (another irony, given that my patience for anything over 40 minutes is zero). The iTunes LP comes in at just over an hour, or it’s about 52 minutes in the standard version. The version I’ve been listening to (tracks selected by me) is just over 32 minutes: much more like it (Beatles For Sale is 34 minutes: there’s your benchmark).

Here’s my 32 minutes:

  1. We Take Care of Our Own
  2. Easy Money
  3. Shackled and Drawn
  4. Wrecking Ball
  5. You’ve Got It
  6. Land of Hope and Dreams
  7. American Land (bonus track)

I’ve got no rationale for choosing some of those over some of the others. You know how it is: some of it is a bit samey. The bombastic production means that it kind of washes over you.

There is still a problem with the production. I think in the studio it all starts off like the stripped back Tunnel of Love, and ends up with too many eggs, too many ideas. For example, “Land of Hope and Dreams” is a great number, but is actually much better in the version released years ago on Live in New York City. Some of the album has a country/folk/gospel vibe, which is pleasing to hear.

The song that surprised me is the title track. When I read about this in the newspapers (a song from the point of view of an about-to-be-demolished baseball stadium), I imagined it would be something worthy and dull, something stretching poetic metaphor too far. Perhaps it does, but I do find the song incredibly moving.

“Wrecking Ball” crept up on me. First five listens: nothing. I even wondered if he was trying too hard with the repeated line, “Hard times come and hard times go” (five times, fact fans). I listened more closely to the words, maybe, but I don’t think the words matter so much as the refrain, and the emotional sense that comes from the tone of the song and that eventually hits you in the solar plexus. The crucial thing is that he sings the words “hard times” ten times in that repeated sequence, which brings to mind the many repetitions in “Backstreets” from Born to Run.

While it’s an obviously apolitical response to austerity and recession, it does seem to speak directly to my inarticulate emotional centre, the head-down part of me that is kind of shrugging and getting on with things as my job gets harder to do and people around me are losing theirs. I imagine a lot of people are feeling the same way. It’s not as if we’ve got the option of voting our way out of this, so you do kind of think, why not? Let’s just smash the whole thing down. What could be worse than this? As they try to put the fear into us about the Euro and all that credit scoring shit, I’m thinking, bring it on.

So here we are. His voice is kind of stuck on grrr, the mix is a mess, the album has more personnel than an Olympics opening ceremony; and being categorised on iTunes under “Stadium Rock” is a kiss of death no artist could possibly want, but Wrecking Ball is getting more airplay from me than anything since Human Touch twenty years ago.As for the title track, it’s his best song for a long, long time, and if you want to see a grown man cry, just pop round my place while it’s on.

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