On NBC’s “Late Night” last Friday, Jimmy Fallon culminated his week-long tribute to Bruce Springsteen by bringing the man himself to the show. At the very end of the interview, Fallon couldn’t help but bring up a popular Bruce legend, asking like the most eager of E Street Band fanboys, “You rock so hard, you actually broke a stadium once, is this true?” Bruce responded affirmatively, modestly acknowledging that the venue was never used again, and Fallon couldn’t help but squeal, “You broke a stadium with rock and roll … only Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band could do that!”
Besides unabashedly embracing his inner fanboy, Fallon, perhaps unintentionally, unified the end of the interview with the theme of Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Wrecking Ball. Indicated by its title, the album has a lot to do with destruction. Springsteen directly confronts the sociopolitical collapse that has coincided with America’s Great Recession, urging his fellow citizens to not be segmented and destroyed by the demolition occurring around them.
Springsteen puts himself in the shoes of America’s working class, opposing the fat-cat bankers who have initiated so much destruction in the economy. In “Jack of All Trades,” he acknowledges one of the most vicious social trends of the recession, “Banker man grows fatter / Working man grows thin.” He invokes an age-old American working-class suspicion of bankers, who seem as injurious and callous as the faceless machinery that easily knocks down the products of hard work — the wrecking ball.
Despite obviously drawing lines and creating oppositions, Springsteen’s rhetoric predictably hopes for unity. Tinged with influences from his Catholic background, he calls on the symbol of Jesus to promote universal care amid all the suffering. Again, in “Jack of All Trades,” he is optimistic that the divisive culture can be overcome, “When the blue sky breaks / Feels like the world’s gonna change / We’ll start caring for each other like Jesus said that we might.”
As far as the music goes, it doesn’t seem to be bogged down by the struggle embodied by the lyrics. Springsteen’s sound never seems to let us get too low: It’s always uplifting. “Death to My Hometown” is a gleeful sort of Irish jig powered by Max Weinberg’s bombastic drumming. Exultant voices balance Bruce’s combative lyrics and condemnations of robber barons.
The kind of political optimism the album harbors could easily fall flat on America’s tired ears. It’s likely that people are sick of that sort of rhetoric in the context of today’s political climate.
Yet, there’s only one Bruce Springsteen. His authenticity has been cultivated ever since emerging on the music scene as an outsider — the pure embodiment of rock ‘n’ roll. In present day, there are few artists who command the same sort of respect as the Irish-Italian Catholic, blue-collar rock ‘n’ roller from New Jersey. So, if anyone is allowed to barrage us with such political platitudes and clichés about the American soul, it is The Boss.