Bruce Springsteen is a very angry man right now if his new album Wrecking Ball is anything to go by.
He’s angry at fat cats, bankers and a political system that is destroying the lives, hopes and dreams of the US working class.
Springsteen’s anger should not surprise us. Unusually for a rock superstar he has become increasingly political as he’s got older. His blue collar working class roots have remained a huge part of who he is, his music and his lyrics.
In the early days his songs could suggest that the way out of economic desolation was a fast car, true love and an open road. But this vision quickly faded, as was reflected in hit albums such as Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978) and The River (1980).
However it was the 1984 album Born In The USA that transformed Springsteen from superstar to megastar. A string of hit singles came from the album, including most famously the title track.
The song sounded like an anthem and was taken by many as a patriotic celebration of his homeland. Even former US president Ronald Reagan quoted it approvingly.
Springsteen replied that Reagan obviously hadn’t listened to the song. Far from being a celebration, it was actually a cry of raging pain from a Vietnam veteran about his hopeless and jobless existence after fighting a pointless war.
Since then Springsteen has made sure there was no doubt which side he was on. He was a fierce opponent of the Iraq War, defender of the environment, friend of immigrants, and opponent of racism and police brutality. All these issues have been dealt with in his songs down the years.
His politics are deeply drawn from the US radical tradition which holds that the principles of the “founding fathers” are daily betrayed by the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and workers. Whatever flaws there are in such views, they put Springsteen on the side of the good guys.
In the past Springsteen’s most political albums have used a stripped down acoustic sound. You can hear this on Nebraska (1982) and The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995).
But Wrecking Ball is different. The message is angry and at times bleak. But the music is varied and exciting.
The opening track “We Take Care of our Own” sounds like Bruce and his E Street Band in full rocking mode, though in fact they are not featured on this album.
As with “Born in the USA”, a casual listen might suggest this song is a boast about the US. In fact it’s laced with irony and anger. Elsewhere on the album you hear strong influences from a variety of musical genres—country, Irish traditional, folk.
On one track a Mexican mariachi band somewhat unexpectedly turns up. “Rocky Ground” uses electronic loops, rap and a female singer. Throughout all the different styles the anger is constant.
The title track uses the image of a wrecking ball destroying the old New York Giants football stadium as a metaphor for the destruction of lives in the US today.
Finally though, there is hope. Springsteen has been performing a song called “Land of Hope and Dreams” in his live sets for a few years now. Tellingly he has chosen this album to release it as a studio recording.
This is the hope for us all against the fat cats and bankers. Springsteen was briefly—and somewhat reluctantly—enthralled by Barack Obama. But this song restates his belief that we have to change things for ourselves.
Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball is out now on CD and MP3 download