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Springsteen's New Album, 'Wrecking Ball,' Captures Rage of Americans Still Rocked by Economic Crisis

Bruce Springsteen long ago achieved the American Dream, but he never stopped singing about the people he grew up, and never stopped identifying as a member of the working class.

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There's rage aplenty on the new album—as Springsteen told the  Guardian, "What was done to our country was wrong and unpatriotic and un-American and nobody has been held to account.” The characters who populate W recking Ball feel that rage, struggle against it, give in to it, use it to draw strength from and let it poison them. It's a big-sounding record, with the full band—the last album on which Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, Springsteen's longtime saxophone player who so memorably graced the cover of Born to Run, and who died last year, played—echoing the sound of The Rising and creating a space big enough to hold all the conflicting emotions. It's angry and sorrowful, sexy and optimistic, dreamy and real.

The opener, “We Take Care of Our Own,” like “Born in the USA,” will no doubt be misinterpreted, but it's actually celebrating the kind of disaster solidarity that Rebecca Solnit described in her book A Paradise Built in Hell. Not for nothing does he reference New Orleans, the Superdome, where Americans had to help each other when the government so colossally failed them.

God and guns show up on this record maybe more than Bruce's liberal fans would like, but that's part of the story too--the threat of violence hovers just beneath the surface of "Easy Money" and “Jack of All Trades,” the latter the voice of a man just one more stroke of bad luck away from his breaking point, the former already broken and out to get his, no matter what gets in his way. The Jack of All Trades will “take the work/that God provides” to provide for his family, any work that comes his way, like so many of the millions still unemployed right now. The violence, the deep cold anger, in both these songs reminds us how intimately linked God and guns still are in so many parts of this country, and that Americans on both sides of the political aisle know that the financial meltdown was something done to us, and that there were people responsible for it.

If the Jack of All Trades is promising that things will be OK, the Everyman of “This Depression” knows it's not going to be. You can almost imagine the shift—the kids have gone to bed, the couple steps into their bedroom and collapse against one another, and he breathes a sigh into his partner's ear and begs for their love not to fracture as their material life gets harder. I will not make it without you loving me, he says, and captures all the torment of a worker whose pride was lost with his ability to provide.

“Death to My Hometown” might sound like a threat, but really it's a lament and a promise of revenge, contrasting the devastation of war with the economic assault that too many hometowns have felt. The title echoes Bruce's classic “My Hometown,” which was a quiet celebration of a fading but still-vital small town. By contrast, the martial beat here is the sound of the town's residents marshaling to fight back.

The title track, like the best songs on The Rising, wraps fear and anger in celebration. “Take your best shot,” Springsteen dares us, and the whole band backs him up—the Big Man's sax reminding us that we're not alone. “Hold tight to your anger,” he commands us, because when you're angry you begin to get things done, you dare to fight, you can change things. It captures the feeling of protesters daring the cops to arrest them, strikers daring the boss to force cuts, a capitol full of Wisconsinites daring Scott Walker to do his worst. 

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