Despite the anthemic roar and gutsy drive of the opening track, We Take Care Of Our Own, Wrecking Ball is not the kind of back-to-basics E Street rock Springsteen has been essaying in recent years. Reaching into the raucous roots of his Seeger Sessions, referencing gospel, folk and blues while bringing in drum loops, hints of hip hop and a raw mix that pushes vocals high, Springsteen appears keen to build bridges between the past and the present, finding contemporary resonances in timeless sources.
It also features the last sax solo from his long-time sparring partner, the late Clarence Clemons. “I met Clarence when I was 22, my son’s age, still a child really. Something happened when we got close, it fired my imagination. So losing Clarence was like losing something elemental, the air or the rain. There’s just something missing. We were lucky to get him on Land of Hope and Dreams. When the sax solo comes up, its a lovely moment for me.”
There is, in the essence of Springsteen’s oeuvre, a very American sense of exulting in the heroic underdog, but here there is a blackness to his mood, fuelled not just by the sense that the dignity of the working man is being assaulted and undermined, but that such assaults are, perhaps, a politically inevitable expression of the very character of the nation.
Time and again, Springsteen sets the image of the honest toiler against “bankers”, “fat cats” and “robber barons”. “An outrageous theft occurred that struck to the heart of the American idea,” suggested Springsteen. “And there has been no accountability.”
He does, however, see cause for optimism. “The Occupy Wall Street movement has been powerful about changing the national conversation. The Tea Party set the conversation for a while but now people are talking about economic equality. That’s a conversation America hasn’t had for 20 years.”
There is also a religious dimension to Springsteen’s latest songs. The album shifts towards the spiritual uplift of gospel music in its rousing finale, evoking Jesus and the risen dead. “I got brainwashed as a child with Catholicism,” joked Springsteen, who says biblical imagery increasingly creeps into his songs almost unbidden. “Its like Al Pacino in The Godfather: I try to get out but they pull you back in! Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”
Springsteen supported Obama’s presidential campaign, and We Take Care of Our Own has already been added to the Obama re-election playlist, yet the often bitter tone of the album suggests Springsteen is not impressed with the powers-that-be.
He admitted, however, that he still supports Obama, who he felt had achieved some things in a difficult political environment. Springsteen doubted he would be actively involved in Obama’s campaign, however. “As an artist, its better to maintain a certain distance from the seat of power.”
He said the only thing he was really good at was making music. “I enjoy artists who like to take on the world as well as entertain their audience. I write to process my own experiences and if I can do that for me, I hope I can do that for you.”
He did, however, suggest that Obama could have a shot at Springsteen’s job. “Obama can sing!” he joked, referring to the Presidential karaoke performance widely viewed on YouTube. “Let’s stick together,” croaked Springsteen, then laughed at his own poor effort. “He’s better than me! I can’t sing that!”
Wrecking Ball is released on Columbia on March 5