A few observations after a couple of spins through Bruce’s new album:
1) It was hard to read the small print lyrics in the CD booklet for the song “Land of Hope & Dreams.” Of course, that may be due to the fact that my eyes were full of tears when I heard Clarence Clemons’ sax roar for the last time.
2) The meaning of LOHD has morphed for the second time. Originally heard on the Live In NYC disc, it was a statement of purpose for the E Street Band–back together after its hiatus during the ’90’s. When I heard the song on the Magic tour, it was a song of resistance against the GW Bush administration–and the real Obama theme song. Now it is an ode to Clarence as the train in the song, amongst its passengers, carries “sweet souls departed.”
3) Samples! Choirs! Whoops/hollers! Rap! This is certainly Bruce’s most ambitious album in many years. It melds the folk/gospel of the Seeger Sessions, Springsteen rock stomp and the rumored Streets of Philadelphia-era album that was hip-hop influenced. Not many albums boast both field recordings from the 1940’s and tape loops. 36 individual musicians and two choirs in the credits.
4) “Death To My Hometown” is the most badass song to emerge from the Great Recession and Occupy-era. This is 99% rock set to an Irish reel. Music that makes you want to get up and organize!
5) “Wrecking Ball” OK, the horns really punch on this version. It’s also a nice visual hook for the album packaging. But I’m still “meh” about this song. It’ll be fun in concert–but it doesn’t really belong on this album. So they tore down Giants Stadium? The billionaire owners went and built another multi-million dollar playpen for their corporate NFL team (full disclosure: the same team that I lustily cheered to its recent Super Bowl victory.)
6) “We Take Care Of Our Own” will alternate with “Wrecking Ball” for the opening slot on the upcoming tour. It’s sort of the “Radio Nowhere” of the album–The 5 Hour Energy boost single to kick off the concert. At least it’s lyrically closer than WB to the spirit of the album. As I write this, I see WTCOOO as the opener and WB as the last song before the encore. April 16th in Albany!
7) Bruce tightened up the lyrics to the previously released live version of “American Land” to make it absolutely clear where he stands on the immigration issue:
“They died building the railroads/ they worked to bones and skin/ they died in the fields and factories/ names scattered in the wind/ they died to get here a hundred years ago/ they’re still dying now/ the hands that built the country/ we’re always trying to keep out.”
8) The rap that Bruce wrote for “Rocky Ground” (performed by vocalist Michelle Moore, who also does the lovely vocal fragment of “People Get Ready” during LOHD) doesn’t once mention bitches, ho’s, pimps, Cristal, selling drugs, packing a nine or going 157 on a motherf’ing cop. It’s a rap about hard work, parenting and prayer–and the fact that all of the preceding may not be enough. Represent!
9) Seriously, you are a Big Man when you play on your own tribute! In an excerpt from Bruce’s moving eulogy reprinted in the CD booklet:
“Clarence was big and he made me feel, think, love and dream big. How big was the Big Man? Too fucking big to die . . . Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies, he leaves when we die.”
10) “We Are Alive” I’m still in awe of this song–one of the more musically low-key songs, but its lyrics are amongst the finest in Bruce’s career. Set to the guitar riff of “Rings of Fire” from Johnny Cash, Bruce meditates on the sacrifices made by those who fought for equal rights and paid the ultimate cost. The martyrs of trade unionism at the turn of the century, civil rights activists in the 1960’s and those currently fighting for immigration reform are allowed to speak to us:
“we are alive/ and though our bodies lie alone here in the dark/ our souls and spirits rise/ to carry the fire and light the spark/ to fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart.”