5 Years Ago: Bruce Springsteen Gets Angry on ‘Wrecking Ball’
Around the time of the 2008 economic collapse, Bruce Springsteen was working on a gospel music album. When he found that particular style of music didn’t suit his anger and frustration regarding what he was hearing in the news, and seeing happen to friends and relatives, he scrapped the entire record and started over.
The Boss began to write what started as “folk songs” about the current state of America and what he perceived as inequality, corruption and a lack of care. As a songwriter, Springsteen was about as angry as he’d ever been.
“You can never go wrong pissed off in rock ’n’ roll. The first half of [the album], particularly, is very angry,” Springsteen told a group of reporters in 2012, the year's of the record's release. “The genesis of the record was after 2008, when we had the huge financial crisis in the States, and there was really no accountability for years and years. People lost their homes, and I had friends who were losing their homes, and nobody went to jail. Nobody was responsible.”
Springsteen wrote “We Take Care of Our Own” as a question that could “gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream.” He penned “Easy Money” about a street thief taking inspiration from the crooks on Wall Street. He came up with “Death to My Hometown” about the havoc that was wreaked on the working class – not by wars or tyrants, but by greed.
As the new album began to take shape, Springsteen mostly eschewed the E Street Band for the assistance of producer Ron Aniello, who helped flesh out the songs into bigger arrangements. Aniello brought some more contemporary touches – loops, hip-hop affectations – to Springsteen’s classic sound, although the tracks also included country influences, Irish folk constructs, gospel tinges and bedrock arena bombast. The diversity of sound wasn’t an accident, but something meaningful to Springsteen.
“If you listen to the record, I use a lot of folk music. There’s some Civil War music. There’s gospel music,” he said of Wrecking Ball. “There are ’30s horns in 'Jack of All Trades.' That’s the way I used the music – the idea was that the music was going to contextualize historically that this has happened before: it happened in the 1970s, it happened in the ’30s, it happened in the 1800s … it’s cyclical. Over, and over, and over, and over again. So I try to pick up some of the continuity and the historical resonance through the music.”
Springsteen also brought in some songs he had previously written, because they fit the theme. “Wrecking Ball” was written for E Street’s final performances at Giants Stadium, but “Come on and take your best shot / Let me see what you’ve got / Bring on your wrecking ball” seemed to resonate with his idea of a resilient America. The song embodied a certain spirit and it gave the new album its title.
He also employed “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a tune Springsteen originally wrote for the E Street Band reunion tour in the late ’90s. Although the song had appeared on a live album, it had never shown up in a studio version.
Listen to Bruce Springsteen's 'Land of Hope and Dreams'
“I wrote it before the tour as the band's current manifesto. In other words, we have stood for these things in the past. This is our current statement of how we will try to stand for these things in the future,” Springsteen told Rolling Stone, suggesting the song had roots in the past but also looked to the future. “It’s the train that keeps going when I’m gone, and when your music and these times are just a memory. … These ideas are something that I wanted at the end of this record.”
“Land of Hope and Dreams” also packed an emotional punch. It features a saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons, the founding E Street Band member who had died the previous year. Other E Streeters Steven Van Zandt, Max Weinberg and Patti Scialfa also contributed to what was mostly a Springsteen solo record. Adjunct bandmates Soozie Tyrell and Charles Giordano were present, along with Rage Against the Machine guitarist (and long-running Springsteen pal) Tom Morello.
Wrecking Ball, Springsteen’s 17th studio album, was released on March 6, 2012, and hit No. 1 in many countries around the world, including the U.S., the U.K. and New Zealand. The record earned mostly positive reviews in the music press, with many writers praising Springsteen’s passion, anger and musical versatility. The man himself saw the album as another installment in a decades-long “conversation” with listeners.
“The only thing I do keep in mind is that I’m in the midst of a lifetime conversation with my audience, and I’m trying to keep track of that conversation,” Springsteen said. “So if the artist loses track of the conversation he’s having with his audience, he may lose us forever. So I try to keep track of that conversation, while giving myself the musical freedom I need.”
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