Mar 06

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.