- - Monday, March 5, 2012

Wrecking Ball

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records


With another election on the horizon, most Americans are taking stock of what’s right and what’s wrong with their country. Bruce Springsteen is doing the same. On “Wrecking Ball,” his seventeenth album, the Boss takes aim at fat-cat bankers and corporate executives who thrive while his blue-collar buddies struggle.

Mr. Springsteen, who’s sold over 120 million albums since the 1970s, surely belongs to the 1 percent. He still sides with the 99 percent, though, and “Wrecking Ball” is his angriest political album to date, filled with song titles like “Shackled and Drawn,” “Death to My Hometown” and “This Depression.” On “Jack of All Trades,” the narrator even wishes he had a gun to blow away whoever’s responsible for forcing him to clean out gutters, mow lawns and patch leaky roofs for chump change.

The lyrics may be dark, but Mr. Springsteen keeps the music bright and polished, beefing it up with usual melting pot of genres - everything from arena-sized rock ‘n’ roll to Southern gospel to Irish folk. And, just to keep things interesting, he springs a few surprises. There’s a rapped verse during “Rocky Ground,” for example, and many of the songs are built upon drum loops or electronic samples. Producer Ron Aniello makes sure everything sounds big, too - even the songs about the little guy.

Whenever he shoots for specifics, Mr. Springsteen hits the bull’s-eye. “We Take Care of Our Town,” a stirring tribute to community support, name-checks the relief workers who rushed to the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. The title track - one of two songs featuring Clarence Clemons, who died last June - calls upon New Jersey natives to “raise up your glasses” in solidarity on the eve of Giants Stadium’s demolition. The themes are universal - bulldozers pave over the past in every city, after all - but the settings are local.

Not all its songs are so richly detailed, and “Wrecking Ball” stumbles whenever things get vague. “Easy Money” suggests a situation similar to the one framing his acoustic classic “Atlantic City” - the narrator is packing a gun and prepping himself for some sort of violent showdown in town, but first, he wants his girlfriend to put on that pretty red dress of hers. - Unfortunately, the story is full of holes, with a singalong chorus (“Na-na-na-na-na, whoa! Whoa!”) that packs a punch without connecting the dots.

Even when “Wrecking Ball” doesn’t swing with precision, though, it still leaves a mark wherever it hits, something that political albums like “Working on a Dream” didn’t always do. This is populist rock ‘n’ roll, played with enough anger and conviction to make us believe that Mr. Springsteen is one of us, tax bracket be damned.

Break It Yourself

Andrew Bird



If Bruce Springsteen’s album sounds like modern America, then Andrew Bird’s newest release, “Break It Yourself,” sounds like Paleozoic-era Pangaea transported to the 21st century.

American, European and African traditions all share equal space on these songs, which blur the lines between culture and genre. “Danse Caribe” begins with Caribbean instruments and evolves into a twangy hoedown. “Orpheo Looks Back” kicks off with a mandolin riff before a fiddle swoops into the mix, turning what began as a quiet Americana tune into an elegant, keening Celtic folk song.

Don’t mistake this for world music. It’s forward-thinking indie rock aimed at those who traveled abroad during college. And, lest anyone think he’s taking himself too seriously, Mr. Bird fills the album with goofy, tongue-twisting lyrics and plenty of lighthearted whistling. He brings others into the project, too, working with a full band for the first time in years.

Still, “Break It Yourself” isn’t always forthright with its charms. It’s dense, layered with small details that only reveal themselves after multiple listens, and only a handful of songs (including “Give It Away” and the gorgeous “Lusitania”) boast the kind of marketable melodies that remain in your head after the album has run its course. For those who take time to learn its tricks, though, “Break It Yourself” proves to be not so broken, after all.

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