After a few days and several spins, I honestly believe that Wrecking Ball is Bruce’s best album since Tunnel of Love. More than that, it is his first great post-E Street album. Bruce has been trying very hard for a very long time, not to get rid of the E Street Band, but to create a new sound beyond the band (or any band for that matter). But whether for lack of courage, lack of ideas or lack of ability (not the right production influences) he has largely failed. There have been moments for sure. The Rising is full of those, but it also has woeful misses. Magic, too, has some great examples of a post-E street sound (the title track and Devil’s Arcade come to mind), but it also falls back on near E-Street cliches at times (“Livin’ in the Future” being the most obvious). Again, this is not a disparagement of the great E Street Band. It’s just that since Human Touch, Bruce has been searching for a new sound, one that was not beholden to any one band but was a progressive amalgamation of all the genres he has mastered as a songwriter and player (jazz, soul, rock, pop, gospel, folk, Irish etc).
And he has finally done it here on Wrecking Ball. It took a long time, and an unsuspecting ally in Ron Aniello, but he did it. This album is a masterpiece IMO. And had Bruce taken such a daring leap way back when with Human Touch and Lucky Town he would’ve continued his long-sought age of relevance and even heightened it.
But maybe he wasn’t ready, or capable, back then. Maybe he was distracted with starting a young family and exploring the self rather than his craft. It hardly matters now. Because this is the perfect album for our time, perfectly crafted. It is not a political rant, it is a dark social commentary infused with glimpses of defiant hope. It is full of his most dangerous songs (it is not without reason to think that some poor displaced bastard could pick up a gun and thank the track “Jack of All Trades” for the inspiration, or a drunken protest might spin into a riot upon the playing of “Death to My Hometown”). It is also a gorgeous, provocative, modern-sounding record unlike anything he or anyone has ever done.
Count me as one of those who was somewhere between skeptical and terrified upon hearing early on the reports that Wrecking Ball was full of drum loops, samples and raps. Indeed, Bruce’s forays into such modernity have been painful at best (the Arthur Baker remixes, much of disc 4 on Tracks, even the remix of 57 Channels were obvious).
But this time, much to my surprise and sheer pleasure, he really did pull it off. As I said, I believe Wrecking Ball to be right up there with his best. In no order: Born to Run, Darkness, Tunnel of Love, Nebraska, Wrecking Ball.