Bruce Springsteen Wrecks Me: Album Leak Fires Up the Faithful
It is always during a crisis of faith where Bruce Springsteen burns the brightest. Whether the young man straining at the reins of Born To Run, the high stakes legal battle/state of the original blue collar erosion Darkness on the Edge of Town, the failing of “til death do us part” Tunnel of Love and arguably for some the post-9/11 fallout of The Rising, he distills the truths that will – seemingly – save us.
And now, the man who sought to outrun the best-times-are-over nostalgia of “Glory Days,” from his stadium-filling Born In The USA, reckons with the undoing of his musical bedrock: the E Street Band. But rather than succumb to melancholy – or buckle, on a larger scale, under the weight of an America undermining its own strength and core values – he returns with his most American album yet. Modern, throwback, historic, progressive, organic, gospel, black, Celtic, Latin, New Orleans, folk, street, it’s all here.
Wrecking Ball does not seek to dismantle or celebrate what was. Rather than stand knee-deep in the expected paradigms of racing in the street, Phil Spector-rock-given-the-operatic-bravura that distinguished the E Street Band, there’s a half-mast sense of the fade inflicted by life – and in some songs greedy, self-interest – that suggests the bleary-eyed truth of Devils & Dust and The Ghost of Tom Joad. Grown-up albums that refused to cave in, they spoke truths most would rather deny.
The exhausted horns and burning electric guitar on “Jack of All Trades,” all we shall persevere by the threads holding us together, offer warm dignity, while the atmospheric, rhythmic loops of “This Depression” a modern hymn to finding grace than an elegy for the American dream. With a carny’s brash swagger for no-sucker-left-unpumped “Easy Money,” Springsteen’s gusto moves to a post-modern pure drinking reel a la the Pogues on the inevitability of life’s diminishing returns for working people “Shackled & Drawn.” Indeed, that defiant revel informs the title track, a sweeping folk churn held together by squeezebox, flecked with droplets of glockenspiel suggesting more innocent album. “Wrecking Ball” taunts the powers that be with the survival instinct of working men who know their strength.
What’s unsaid will be unknown about “the leaks.”
In a time when the Internet is the great equalizer, major label paranoia is at an all-time high and the cries of piracy as the death to the industry, the leak has been pervasive. Indeed, it has energized the followers in a way hype and big media visibility can not. For me, it was an email from someone who knew how aggressively I have kept the faith. First the young girl who snuck into the WMMS 10th Anniversary Show at the Cleveland Agora with a 50 dollar bill-wrapped library card – always buttressed by the New Jersey rocker’s faith as I’ve grown up. They asked if I’d heard it, if I wanted to, where could they send the MP3s.
The tracks arrived one-at-a-time. Me, terrified the cyber-police would storm down.
They have not.
It’s as if there’s unstated orchestration to “the leak.” It’s a handshake-of-recognition among the faithful – a way for Springsteen to stand strong without co-opting the major interests who’ve built his career, are dependent on his success to fund their own lives.
Certainly the minimal, but gospel-based “Rocky Ground,” with the floating vocals and call’n’response churchy vocals, and its immediate banjo-embroidered over drum machine-opened “The Land of Hopes & Dreams” – which explodes into full Springsteen rock regalia, sax bleating, drums crashing and melody always moving higher – offer an enduring sense of keeping the faith with his flock. When all else is gone, there is faith. When that is lost, there truly is nothing. Springsteen knows it, has walked that ridge before – held up a light to remind us someone’s out there, who sees, who knows, who, despite the odds, believes. That open to “The Land of Hopes & Dreams” reminds us to keep moving, to keep going. Urgency in the need is obvious, but knowing it will be survived is essential. This is not a song of bromides, dire though the circumstances Springsteen sees, he will not pacify, nor surrender.
It is why this record is out there, free-floating among fans before the “official” street date. “This train carries losers and murders, this train carries whores and gamblers…” goes the roll call of all who can ride, because in the end, it’s the ones who believe who’re delivered.
“This train will not be thwarted,” he sings, with a slight undertow of “People Get Ready” lapping at the edge of the melody, then crescendos, “this train faith will be rewarded…” As a Catholic, that is all there is. Nothing is guaranteed in this life, and Bruce Springsteen knows that; but he also knows he can inspire people to dig in, to hang tough and remember what they’re made of.
And while we’re here, we might as well strive to enjoy the ride. Quoting from June Carter and Merle Kilgore’s “Ring of Fire” somewhere in the middle, “We’re Alive” figures out how to celebrate life while awaiting that final redemption, however it arrives.
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