Bruce Springsteen is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. Although he doesn’t implore you to go to your window and shout out the same, he comes close. Wrecking Ball offers a populist view of America and a harangue on the economic inequality that has wrought havoc on the country. Originally intended to be an acoustic folk album in the vein of Nebraska, producer Rob Aniello has taken the recording in a very different direction. Wrecking Ball comes close to bellicose as Springsteen rages against the machine, often using militaristic language and artillery sound effects. The music dips into a potpourri of genres ranging from rock to folk to rap, to Celtic and mariachi.
“We Take Care of Our Own” the album’s opener, could be mistaken for being nationalistic, much as "Born in the U.S.A.” was misinterpreted by listeners in the 1980s. Hearing it as the song that sets the tone for the rest of the release you quickly come to the understanding that Springsteen is calling the working class to solidarity. It’s a rock anthem that pumps with drums, guitar, and keyboards, backed by a crescendo of strings. In other words, it harkens back to Springsteen’s earliest work. The energy doesn’t let up. Track two, “Easy Money,” is a rock-hoedown, a mutation of Born to Run and The Seeger Sessions. By track three, “Shackled and Drawn,” euphonium, tuba, trombone, clarinet, saxophones, and other a sundry instruments have entered the fray. “Death To My Hometown” is a Celtic driven march with penny whistle at the forefront. In it Springsteen compares Wall Street Bankers to marauders who pillage and destroy, much like an invading army. Things slow down for “Jack of All Trades” a paean to the working man.
“This Depression” a confessional waltz about a struggling unemployed worker acts as a bridge between the first half of the album and it’s focus on economic strife, and the second half which deals with the quest for redemption and faith. Wrecking Ball brings Springsteen back to New Jersey “where the mosquitos grow big as planes, where the blood is spilled, the arenas fill, and the Giants play their games.” Springsteen defiantly goads the evil forces to “bring on your wrecking balls, take your best shot, let’s see what you got.” Balancing out the bravado is the love ballad “You’ve Got It” an homage to a woman who helps a man keep his faith. “Rocky Ground” begins with Springsteen calling out “I’m a soldier” followed by the Victorious Gospel Choir, a nod to gospel music’s penchant for calling the faithful the soldiers of Christ. Michelle Moore add a rap to the end of the song.
The gospel theme continues on “Land of Hope and Dreams.” “We Are Alive" has a western theme complete with banjo and mariachi horns. “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale” brings back memories of The Ghost of Tom Joad. Wrecking Ball wraps with a bonus track, the jubilant Celtic flavored “American Land,” a song Springsteen and his band have been playing on tour.
Springsteen is accompanied by a huge cast, including E Street members Steven Van Zant, Max Weinberg, Patti Scialfa, and the late Clarence Clemons. Other participants include Soozie Tyrell and Charlie Giordano, Tom Morello, Greg Leisz, Matt Chamberlain, and the New York Chamber Consort.