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Springsteen’s latest is great—but where’s the E Street Band?

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The Boss is back with Wrecking Ball. “Fat cats” might not like it.
Photo: Matt Sayles/AP
Matt Wardlaw

The Details

Bruce Springsteen
Wrecking Ball
Four stars

Bruce Springsteen draws on a diverse palette of sounds, old and new, to create the highly engaging Wrecking Ball, his 17th studio album. Although gospel influences and a rootsy feeling recalling his work on 2006’s Seeger Sessions dominate, drum loops, samples and understated guitar contributions from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello add interesting color.

For all intents and purposes, it’s a Boss solo record; he handles much of the instrumentation himself, in conjunction with producer Ron Aniello and assorted additional players. Contributions from Springsteen’s E Street Band comrades are minimal, even if elements of several songs mimic the group’s iconic, full-bodied sound. Most notably, Max Weinberg-esque drumming powers the energetic lead single, “We Take Care of Our Own,” giving it a definite E Street feel.

Although it was recorded pre-Occupy Wall Street, the financial struggles of American citizens figure heavily into the songwriting, with Springsteen lambasting the “fat cats” and “bankers” who profit at the expense of the working man. The Celtic-jig-like “Death to My Hometown,” which boasts a penny whistle, is a ready-made live killer, powerfully stomping the yard with an acidic promise to send the “robber barons straight to hell.” Meanwhile, “You Got It” feels almost like Springsteen circa-1987’s Tunnel of Love, amplified with some slinky lap-steel guitar.

Wrecking Ball is worth the price of admission for the explosive “Land of Hope and Dreams.” A fan favorite first heard during Springsteen’s 1999 reunion tour with the E Street Band, the tune poignantly showcases the shimmering saxophone of late E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons, in one of his final recorded performances.

The lack of E Street presence—particularly on the songs that sound so much like E Street Band numbers—is curious. The songs Springsteen has previewed live so far are elevated and completed by the E Street Band performing them. Hearing those same songs on disc, the band’s presence is missed, and the energy lags. (Why not use Mighty Max on drums when you want his sound?) Still, none of this takes away from the fact that, song for song, Wrecking Ball is one of the most consistent albums Springsteen has released in the past decade.

Matt Wardlaw is a music lifer whose work appears in numerous outlets, including UltimateClassicRock.com.

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