World War III has already taken place. Sure, you may be sitting there thinking “What the hell is Jason talking about” but let me explain. In 2005 Long Beach Island, NJ switched from carrying all Philadelphia area channels to New York City area channels. In my world that’s like asking a Chicago Cubs fan to cheer for the Chicago White Sox – not good. For generations Long Beach Island, NJ (and the Jersey shore) has been the vacation haven for all Philadelphians (about a 75 minute drive from where I grew up). My family (Grandfather David RIP, Grandmother, Aunt, Uncle) has owned at least 1 house or condo “down da shore” ever since I was a little boy. New York and Philadelphia are two different cities, two different cultures. To suddenly switch to NYC channels was more than a defeatist notion that NY natives could no longer afford their own state – it was offensive (though not as offensive as suggesting Philadelphia was a new affordable borough of NYC)
NYC and Philadelphia – despite our love / hate relationship – came together in fear, hope, and optimism on 9/11/01 and the days, weeks, months, and years after. One person who has always towed the line between being a Philadelphian and a New Yorker is Bruce Springsteen (a native resident of Long Branch, NJ who became famous in Asbury Park, NJ). With his song “My City of Ruins” Springsteen left a lump in the throats of everyone on the east coast who prayed for their loved ones safety on 9/11 with the lyrics ” Now there’s tears on the pillow / darling where we slept / and you took my heart when you left / without your sweet kiss / my soul is lost, my friend / Now tell me how do I begin again”. On 9/11 I was working a menial office job just a few years out of college in suburban Philadelphia trying to get through to my wife on the telephone and figure out what the plane flying over Pennsylvania was going to do next. To say that Bruce’s lyrics resonate with me is an understatement.
In the time since those dark days we have seen hope and patriotism disappear into privacy concerns, stock market crashes, housing crashes, and broken campaign promises by both Republican and Democrat presidents. It has also seen Bruce Springsteen deliver his most consistent body of work since the years 1973 to 1984 (Greetings from Asbury Park to Born in the USA). In 2009 Bruce delivered “Working on a Dream” which was unfairly regarded as an ode to the current US President by some reviewers. Flash forward 3 years and I am listening to the new Bruce Springsteen record “Wrecking Ball” – it leaves no political party unscathed in its poetic venom towards those responsible for the decrease in quality of life for the average American.
The first thing I am struck by on this album is the layered sound – despite the (at times) angry content – it seems Bruce would like us to dance and drink a bit as we talk about our mutually assured destruction. A comparison point would be Born in the USA, Nebraska, and The Seeger Sessions all thrown into a melting pot. There is not one filler track on the entire album, with a few highlights to point out:
“We Take Care of Our Own” kicks things off with angry lyrics stating “The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone / We take care of our own”. The music has an upbeat keyboard refrain that recalls Bruce’s own “Born in the USA”.
“Jack of all Trades” has the narrator struggling to find decent work and maintaining dignity in the face of these circumstances. The music suggests a country waltz.
My favorite song on the album is “Death to my Hometown” with its angry lyrics and music. The lyrics are pointed at Wall Street but could easily be pointed at the joined Republican / Democrat failures in the days since 9/11 – “Now main street’s white washed windows and vacant stores / seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more / They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks / Foreman says these jobs are going boys / and they ain’t coming back / to your hometown”
“Rocky Ground” starts with mournful guest female vox by Michelle Moore. Other reviewers are calling her spoken word bit a “guest rap on a Bruce record” but I’d liken it more to some Beat Poetry, which really fits the vibe of the song. Call it Philadelphia pride but calling a song “Rocky Ground” (bringing to mind Rocky Balboa) after penning a song years ago called “The Streets of Philadelphia” is an unintentional shout out to Philadelphians. It helps that the song rides its smooth beat and hopeful lyrics to become one of the the many highlights.
Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and The Nightwatchman guests on the record and adds a feeling of angst that has not been felt so strongly on a Bruce Springsteen record since Bruce growled his way through “Adam Raised a Cain” in 1978. The Tom Morello connection is probably the reason some hipster review sites refuse to tell the world about the brilliance of this album (either that, or they are deaf. Oh wait, I’m hard of hearing so that isn’t valid).
Bruce Springsteen himself sums up the album in the title track when he says “Hard times come and hard times go, so hold tight to your anger and don’t fall to your fears.”
Be sure to seek out the version of this album that has two bonus tracks “Swallowed up (in the Belly of the Whale)” and “American Land”.
Bruce Springsteen has created ANOTHER masterpiece and is clearly at the point in his career where he can be mentioned in the same breath as artists such as Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan. Prior to the latest “Golden Age of Bruce” I wouldn’t have said that, but the last 10 years have been a treat for Bruce Springsteen fans. Bridging the divide in the US is a huge task – to somewhat bridge the divide between NYC and Philadelphia is to be somewhat god-like. One question for Bruce (besides all the music related questions) Hoagie or Submarine? You show me a New Yorker eating a submarine and I’ll show you someone who needs to visit Philadelphia for a real sandwich.
The Verdict: One of Bruce’s finest (since the last one)
For Fans of: John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine, The Nightwatchmen, Bob Marley, John Lennon
This album is available almost everywhere and online at Amazon and Itunes.
01. We Take Care Of Our Own (03:53)
02. Easy Money (03:36)
03. Shackled and Drawn (03:46)
04. Jack Of All Trades (05:59)
05. Death To My Hometown (03:28)
06. This Depression (04:07)
07. Wrecking Ball (05:49)
08. You’ve Got It (03:48)
09. Rocky Ground (04:40)
10. Land Of Hope and Dreams (06:58)
11. We Are Alive (05:44)
12. Swallowed Up (In The Belly Of The Whale) (Bonus Track) (05:35)
13. American Land (Bonus Track) (04:25)