Wrecking Ball

Wrecking Ball

Bruce Springsteen’s 2012 album Wrecking Ball is a blend of traditional music, rock, gospel, and folk—all of it alongside samples, drum loops, and a 16-bar rap interlude performed by E Street Choir member Michelle Moore. Lyrically, Springsteen turns his attention here to a new generation of Americans struggling to stay afloat—“from the shotgun shack to the Superdome,” as he sings in the fiery “We Take Care of Our Own.” With song titles like “Death to My Hometown,” “Shackled and Drawn,” and “This Depression,” Springsteen isn’t trying to hide the pervading discontent. “Wrecking Ball” began its life as a song written in honor of the closing shows at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium, but on record, it became a metaphor for the parts of society we hold dear—but that are knocked down and replaced by newer, shinier things that may or may not be better. And the couple depicted in “Easy Money,” a great duet between Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, feels sadly and distantly related to the protagonists in Nebraska’s “Atlantic City.” “Land of Hope and Dreams” had been in the E Street Band’s live-show repertoire for more than a decade, but had never been recorded. Using a popular gospel metaphor of a train as the vehicle that can carry the holy to salvation, Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams” train instead carries saints and sinners, losers and winners. He brings in a gospel choir at the end to reprise Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions’ “People Get Ready,” a 1965 song that similarly made use of the gospel train metaphor. It’s tighter and more disciplined than the onstage version. Springsteen’s interest in gospel music had intensified in the decade preceding Wrecking Ball, and he puts this to good use on “Rocky Ground,” one of the most innovative tracks on the record—or in the post-reunion era. The song opens with a gospel sample from the Alan Lomax archive, which is looped and utilized as a percussive element throughout. The song deftly balances despair and hope, with its emotional climax coming during the rap performed by Michelle Moore: “You pray for guidance, only silence now meets your prayers/The morning breaks, you awake but no one’s there.”

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