Let me kick this post off with a couple of statements, in a ‘don’t get me wrong’ manner. Firstly, I love a bit of Rage Against The Machine and the first Audioslave album was an absolute monster musically – the other two had their highlights too. I’m also a huge Springsteen fan, many of his albums are perpetually in my car’s multichanger or playing through my iPods. It’s easy enough; I have them all, some in multiple formats and even a few of the boxsets.
Accordingly, my point is even stronger than an unbiased few as I admire both men as artists and some of their songs have featured in key moments in my life. One of the things that I really don’t like is hypocrisy and I can’t help but think they’re both guilty of it to a large extent at the moment.
Let’s take Wrecking Ball as an example. It is a fine album. It’s certainly a lot stronger than Working On A Dream. It’s tight, it’s cohesive and sounds vital and packs a real punch – surprising given the lack of cohesion in the assembled musicians (there’s no real band more different groupings of musicians) which speaks volumes about the writing and production. We Take Care of Our Own, Jack of All Trades, Land of Hope & Dreams, Rocky Ground and even the title track are belters that will no doubt be setlist staples on the next few tours (Land… has been for the last decade already but the newer version is tighter than a duck’s arse). Death To My Hometown is a corker of a song that sounds like Bruce swallowed the songbook he’d been sniffing at for Seeger Sessions, chugged down some rocket fuel, strapped a guitar on and let fly (I sniffed a musical-criticism-cliche book before writing this).
The thing that stops me loving this album as much as Magic (of his recent splurge of productivity Magic and The Seegar Sessions sit up there with Darkness, Born To Run and Tunnel) is the inclusion of a couple of clunkers. I’m not talking about We Are Alive or You’ve Got It (every classic Boss album has a track or two like that but you know they’ll eventually grow on you in the same way as the jokes in a Hemmingway novel stop you getting overpowered by the weight of the drama). It’s the songs of ‘anger’, the songs that address the State of the Nation – you know, a financially and morally bankrupt America (not that the U.S of A is alone in such a state but Bruce’s Jersey is New not of the Channel Islands) – that irk me.
Yes, Bruce is at his best when he’s ‘angry’ and brooding. Look at Nebraska, Darkness and even USA. Hell even Tunnel of Love is a record of despair. But that negativity is more of a personal one – it’s his father, his soon-to-be ex-wife or even the Talk Show Stations on the radio. On ..USA, yes, there’s anger at the way the government is treating veterans and a few stabs at the system in Downbound Train but…. But my problem is that here Bruce Springsteen now is singing as if one of the ‘99%’ as the Occupy Movement have come to regard those of us that don’t have a few million in pocket change on any given day.
Bruce who is worth a rough $200 million or so. Mr Springsteen who has sold more albums than the entire Occupy movement has used markers for their placards. On Wrecking Ball’s weakest tracks (musically they’re diamonds cut from the same rock that spawned Seeger Sessions) Shackled and Drawn and Easy Money, Bruce sings about how:
“workingman pays the bill
It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill
Up on banker’s hill, the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn”
Or how he’s going out on the town in search of that ‘easy money’. Now these are admirable lyrics. They are. For someone who can be beleived to be the character in those songs. I desperately wanted to catch Bruce and E-Street Band when they come to town this year but I was put off because I’d be facing a nice £200 cost just for me and my wife to catch the show. Anyone with ticket prices that high is already up on ‘banker’s hill’. If this were the Bruce that sang of operas being played out on the Turnpike and the streetlife of Asbury park circa 1972 it would be believable but for the multi-millionaire musician of 2012 to be singing as if cap-in-hand is as appropriate as Kirk Lazarus having a skin pigmentation procedure to play Sgt Osiris.
Let me reiterate one of my earlier points – Wrecking Ball is a good album. It’s bloody good. One of the highlights is the guitar work (though it’s nowhere near as it good or fiery as it
could should be) of Tom Morello – not to mention Swallowed Up In The Belly of a Whale which is a dark, broody monster that creeps into your ears and should have replaced Easy Money. The two musicians are pretty close lately and have been popping up together wherever a need to stand on a makeshift stage and sing This Land is Your Land in a real ugh-inducing way – does a 70 year old Woody Guthrie folk song really sum up the problems faced by ‘the 99%’? – presents itself.
Indeed, Mr Morello is seemingly trying to become Guthrie – his guitar painted with whatever cliched slogan pops into his head and singing ‘protest’ songs at every opportunity while doing his damndest to become the champion of the Occupy Movement. Once again, this smacks of hypocrisy to me. How big were Rage? How many millions did they sell? Shitloads. Not only that but how many times have the band members gone “kerching!” to festival appearance requests since reuniting a few years back? How can you speak for the 99% (I should point out that I hate that phrase in itself) when you’re so far from being amongst them?
The only person who was able to imitate Guthrie without being so hideously ham-fisted about it was Bob Dylan but that was in 1962 and even he gave it up quickly – in fact, he never even claimed to be a protester. For multi-millionaire musicians whose talents lie in creating music of a far different beast to be suddenly finding their inner dust-bowl just reaks of cash in.
Bruce recently said that he would never be as active politically as he had been in the run-up to Obama’s victory, saying that artists should be “the canary in the cage.” Absolutley, couldn’t agree more. However, there’s a difference between lending your support and voice to a group and trying to be one of that group. Especially when the gap between their message and your circumstances is so severe. Christ, we’ll have Bon Jovi singing from the point of view of starving Africans next.
To rectify this malaise, stick the first RATM album or Battle of Los Angeles in your CD player – those are real songs of anger and power – or get hold of Wrecking Ball. I still love it but then I’ve adjusted the tracklisting thusly:
We Take Care of Our Own
Death to My Hometown
Jack of All Trades
Swallowed Up (In The Bell of the Whale)
You’ve Got It
Land of Hope and Dreams
We Are Alive
Shackled and Drawn
Like I said, it’s a great album and Bruce is better when he’s packing a punch (I really don’t want another Lucky Town / Human Touch or Queen of the Supermarket) but this way there’s a little less “I’m one of the people” cheese.