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‘Springsteen’s Greatest Albums’ excerpt: ‘Wrecking Ball’
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By Pete Chianca
Jan. 28, 2013 11:10 a.m.

On Mondays through January, we’re continuing to post exclusive excerpts from Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums, our eBook that analyzes eight of Springsteen’s most groundbreaking albums and then argues which one should be considered “the greatest.” This week, a selection from the chapter on Springsteen’s latest album, “Wrecking Ball.”
Wrecking Ball does falter a bit in the middle, with a heartfelt delivery saving “This Depression” from sonic noodling that stands in for depth, and “You’ve Got It” sounding like it wandered in off a Bob Seger album, its bluesy sexiness notwithstanding. But the title track, though it seemed something of a novelty song about the Meadowlands when he debuted it in concert in 2009, works much better in the context of the difficulties chronicled elsewhere on Wrecking Ball. Springsteen’s insistence that “hard times come and hard times go, just to come again” becomes, more than ever, a worthy musical challenge to stand up to the forces that grind us down.
And from there, the album soars to a close. The sublime “Rocky Ground” leads in to a studio version of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” first introduced on the E Street Band reunion tour back in 1999. It may seem an odd choice given the minimal ESB participation on Wrecking Ball – like Tunnel of Love, it was essentially a solo album –  but all doubts are erased when, in his last recorded performance, the late Clarence Clemons’ saxophone blares as punctuation to Springsteen’s “bells of freedom ringin.’” It’s a perfect climax, a feeling of despair turning into faith, even through tears.
The album’s coda is the weird, wonderful “We Are Alive,” awash with voices of people who died taking a stand or seeking a better life. Interestingly, they do it amidst a musical quote from Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” — a song that basically compares love to hell. For an album that tackles adversity, life’s inequities, faith, redemption and standing up to the battering forces of time itself, it seems only appropriate that it should conclude with Springsteen literally whistling past a graveyard; in the end, he seems to be asking, what else is there to do?
In fact, through it all, Springsteen sounds more resigned than restless — an attitude probably befitting his age and place in life. Like Bob Dylan, who started off faking his aged troubadour voice before actually growing into it, Springsteen’s mature drawl, focused by his co-producer Ron Aniello, serves him well on Wrecking Ball. Even more than the lyrics, it’s the knowing world-weariness behind them that makes the songs so haunting, and so uplifting when anger and desperation finally give way, however begrudgingly, to hope.
You can download Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums at Amazon or Amazon UK. And if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry: You can download free Kindle software here.

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