Just to come again: Bring on your ‘Wrecking Ball’

No album from my all-time favorite rock ‘n’ roll performer is ever anything close to a failure, but Bruce Springsteen’s most recent release of new material before this year, 2009′s Working on a Dream, was as sloppy as he’s ever had. Two of the songs, “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket,” forever come across as virtual Springsteen parodies, each telling a story that resembled a vintage Springsteen tale except for the way they were stretched into utter preposterousness. The rest of the album was a mixed bag – certainly adequate, especially considering the high standards Springsteen has set for himself, and with a couple true gems such as the Danny Frederici tribute “The Last Carnival” – but overall as a collection of songs, it was a work in search of coherence, lyrically and musically.

Between then and now, Springsteen put out the double-sided The Promise, a compilation of numerous songs composed following Born to Run but either left off Darkness on the Edge of Town and other subsequent albums, or significantly reworked. The Promise simultaneously illustrated the ability of Springsteen at the top of his game and the extent of his wide-ranging interests, again both in music and subject matter. As if we didn’t know already, there’s a reason Springsteen has kept putting out material into his 60s: he’s a well that won’t dry up.

His brand-new album, Wrecking Ball, isn’t as satisfying or enlightening as The Promise, but it does represent the beginning of a journey back from the erratic qualities of Dream. The Boss is still a bit too infatuated with stylistic variety for his own good – some will certainly argue that it keeps things fresh, but it starts to take on a everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach that becomes a distraction.

Parts of Wrecking Ball are simply overproduced. More than once when a stray gospel chant, Irish accent, rap solo or other element comes into earshot, I found myself saying, “Just play the song.” From a younger artist it might come across as insecurity, but from a Hall of Famer like Springsteen it feels more like the indulgence of someone who is just having too much fun – even in the angry songs – to help himself.

But this much can be said: Never on Wrecking Ball does Springsteen go so far as to venture into the kind of implosions that “Outlaw Pete” and “Queen of the Supermarket” represent, and often, especially after repeat listening, the pieces of flair win you over.

And when things work, they really do work. “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which has been a Springsteen tour staple for some time now, is just rousing – if you haven’t heard the live version, you’ll certainly get a taste of what it must be like. (It also includes what would seem to be the final notes played by Clarence Clemons on a Springsteen album, and your heart will break each time you hear them.)

And the pitch-perfect “Wrecking Ball,” one that he began playing on tour a couple years back (with little hint at least at the outset that it would become his next album’s title track), proves to be the best of them all.

In some ways, it’s a rough and tough sequel to the now 27-year-old “Glory Days.” Its main character is Giants Stadium, just before being demolished, and it opens …

I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey
Some misty years ago
Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers
I’ve seen champions come and go

So if you got the guts mister
Yeah, if you’ve got the balls
If you think it’s your time
Then step to the line
And bring on your wrecking ball

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot
Let me see what you’ve got
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The lyrics don’t need my explanation. It’s a song that stares straight into the face of mortality. “Wrecking Ball” reminds us that everyone has their battles, and we fight them, fight them to win, even if we know, in the end, we all lose the war.

… Now when all this steel and these stories
They drift away to rust
And all our youth and beauty
It’s been given to the dust

And your game has been decided
And you’re burning the down the clock
And all our little victories and glories
Have turned into parking lots

When your best hopes and desires
Are scattered to the wind
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
And hard times come
And hard times go
Just to come again!
Bring on your wrecking ball …

The song then brings the entire E Street Band in a singing primal call to the wild, one that couldn’t sound more right. It’s moments like these that Springsteen delivers like no one else.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always liked Springsteen, but he’s never really aroused my enthusiasm. I think I actually prefer the Traveling Wilburys’ parody “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

      See him live once, and you are usually hooked.

  • Anonymous

    I stopped buying the Boss after Born in the USA.  

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Why You Must Know Your Audience
    Who are you writing for?
    If you can’t answer that question, you may be in trouble.
    http://www.writingthoughts.com/?p=876

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    I’ve really liked what I’ve heard so far (which is only 4 tracks) on this one, and like you was not a fan of Working on a Dream. I’m not as familiar with the Boss’s later work as you, but there are definitely some rousing songs on here. Even if it’s a mixed bag, glad that he’s back, as it were.

    Nice piece on Scott Van Slyke, btw, in case this wasn’t posted earlier: http://mlblogstopesblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/on-the-cusp-scott-van-slyke/

  • http://twitter.com/snakealicious75 Christopher Smith

    I’ve seen him play Wrecking Ball a couple times in Philly, he played it at his last show in the old Spectrum before they knocked it down.  I loved the song immediately, he monologued a little about the great close, smaller arenas of his day being knocked down and replaced by huge corporate behemoth stadiums.  I guess it’s technically about Meadowlands, but I like to think taht he was thinking about the Spectrum too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

      I LOVE the fact that he still plays the LA Sports Arena. It still has by far the best sound quality of any arena in LA…though it is somewhat of a dumpster :) Springsteen calls it “the dump that jumps” and “the joint that won’t disappoint”. It can be uncomfortable…but it’s a great place to see rock & roll.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

         I’ll be there April 27. It’s a great spot for this song.

        Sometimes I wonder about when Dodger Stadium will reach its Wrecking Ball fate.  Scary to think about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terry-Pruett/1707390003 Terry Pruett

    I’ve been a fan since 1973, and I always will be a fan. I viewed Working on a Dream as a continuation of the pop direction we saw on Magic songs such as Girls in Their Summer Clothes and Your Own Worst Enemy. It was almost like an outtakes album. Wrecking Ball has a real point of view (which I agree with) and in my mind is a “real” Springsteen album…and a good one.
     
    I’m looking forward to the tour, because, though albums come and go, he will ALWAYS be the best live performer in rock…and these Wrecking Ball songs will grow and deepen as the tour goes on, as they always do.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Girls in Their Summer Clothes is my favorite Springsteen song of the past 10 years.  I think it’s brilliant.  Magic is a better album than Dream – I didn’t write about it because I didn’t want to write longer about him than I did above – but the “outtakes” description is kind of apt for Dream.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=713935344 Jason Ungar

        I agree about Girls in Summer Clothes. I also just love Gypsy Biker!

      • http://twitter.com/adamluther55 Adam Luther

        “Girls” is One of my favorites as well.  Love Wrecking Ball.  Kudos to Springsteen for trying something new – a different sound for him – experimented with looping in the 90′s.  New producer, worked with Jars of Clay.  I’ll be at the Sports Arena both nights.  

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    Not to get too political and I know this is a Deadspin piece, but…this Marlins president sounds like kind of a… jerk. 
    http://deadspin.com/5891292/

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    No. 3 in CF (and no, I’m not talking about Willie Davis).
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/positional-power-rankings-center-field/

    • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

      That list is harder to argue about! 
      Wonder why backup Tony Gwynn doesn’t have fielding or WAR stats?

  • http://underdog.typepad.com/ underdog

    via twitter:
    DodgersGM ‏ @DodgersGM:
    While all of you are buying the new iPad 3, I’ll be spending twice as much to buy Brian Sabean’s old iPad 2.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • KT

    I saw Springsteen once back around the mid 80′s in the Tacoma Dome with a friend of my brother. The special part of the evening was it was all of our birthdays. 9/23