A friend of mine likens marriage to a Bruce Springsteen show—goes on too long, the story gets corny after a while, but what enthusiasm after all these years! I feel like I’ve been in a marriage with Springsteen’s music for so long that I forget when we first got together. Was it Born to Run when we were wide-eyed and dangerous, Nebraska when all we had was us? Was it when we made that killing in the Reagan years? Who can tell anymore?
All I know is every record since 2005’s Devils and Dust (which still hits me the way an airbag does in an accident) has me going “Oh, you” to the heartfelt lug, still caring about how we are doing, how our joined humanity is fairing after all these years. Nobody in pop music loves us all like Springsteen does, and we love him like we do no other star.
Our endless love with Bruce Springsteen exhibits the same loss of mystery that happens after a couple decades together, and with Wrecking Ball and the last couple of albums before it, we can almost finish his sentences. Consider the transparent sentiment in “We Take Care of Our Own”, the shaky ground in “Easy Money,” the coldest war played out in “Death to my Hometown.” They are as subtle as the wrecking ball in the album title. The classic E-Street Band epic bombast, built of a million shuddering moments, is replaced by immediate sentiment.
Bruce can still stir up the old magic. The horns and the “wah-ho-hoo” chorus in the title track are undeniably thrilling. “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” opens as a massive, desolate heartbeat of a weary America, hoarsely whispering visions, “I come upon strange earth / And to a great black cave / I dreamt I awoke / As if buried in my grave” It’s like the rally is over and the candidate who’s just instilled the gathered masses with fire and hope is having a reflective look around the empty hall, wondering if we are going to make it through this thing.
Fortunately, the Boss we all count on sails in at the album’s end on a roaring Celtic wind with “American Land,” bellowing praise for
The McNicholas, the Posalskis, the Smiths, Zerillis too
The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews
They come across the water a thousand miles from home
With nothing in their bellies but the fire down below.
It’s a Pogues-grade frenzy without the self-immolation. Instead there stands on this American shore a bonfire in which all cynicism and irony is consumed, except for the stray ember—“There’re hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out”—but no matter. We are in the throes of the American dream. We are in this with Bruce Springsteen for the long haul.