Against a white background, a scrawny man clad in a tight black leather jacket and tighter denim jeans leans against a hunched-over giant wielding a tenor saxophone.
This iconic image has defined Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen and the E Street Band since 1975. Tracks like “Thunder Road” and
“Born to Run” make even today’s youth sing at the top of their lungs.
Justin Townes Earle, a nationally recognized independent folk singer-songwriter, once said, “If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen then you don’t like Woody Guthrie meaning you don’t like music,” as he prepared to cover the Boss’s Nebraska hit “Atlantic City.”
Springsteen took motifs and styles from the folk/rock legends of the ‘50s, crafted them from his perspective and added brilliant musicians such as Roy Bittan and Clarence Clemons. The result: 42 years of breathtaking albums, catchy hits and a rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-worthy career.
In 2006, Springsteen paid homage to his hero Pete Seeger and assembled a masterful group to record many of Seeger’s iconic songs. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions connected the gap to Bruce’s listeners where his inspirations came from.
Boss released Working on a Dream in 2009. This album, consisting of Golden Globe winning track “The Wrestler,” sparked a promotional tour that would lead to incredible things.
For the first time in history, The E Street Band would perform entire albums live for to-capacity arenas. Two months before the end of the tour, Bruce wrote the song ‘Wrecking Ball” to pay respect to Giant Stadium and its inevitable demolition to make room for a new stadium.
The E Street Band played five dates at its hometown stadium, selling out the near 80,000 person stadium every night. Bruce played the entirety of Born to Run, that same album with Bruce leaning against Clemons, all five nights.
The tour ended on November 22, 2009 in Buffalo, NY. This author had the chance to see this show, amazed throughout the three-and-a-half-hour-long show.
Unfortunately for The E Street Band, this would end up being the last show with Clarence Clemons who died of stroke complications on June 18, 2011. He was 69.
Many thought that the band couldn’t go on without “The Big Man” as Clemons became known.
On March 6, 2012, Bruce and the band defied all odds and released his latest album, Wrecking Ball.
Springsteen drew from all his inspirations, including Seeger and his home state of New Jersey. His voice, deeper and rougher than the leather-clad ’75 version, still sings the same inspirational tones as has throughout his storied career.
The album starts with “We Take Care of Our Own,” an up-tempo ballad about the economic struggles of America. The song has the same design you would expect from Springsteen, adding flourishes of style like fellow New Jersey musicians The Gaslight Anthem.
Bookending side one of the record, “Shackled and Drawn” continues the message that we have a lot of work to do to free ourselves of our burden. The ensemble plays expertly on this track, creating a contrast between the beautiful, flowing instrumentals and the raspy, realistic voice of Springsteen.
Side two starts with “Jack of All Trades” and ends with “This Depression.” These tunes follow suit with side one, telling the stories of the man who’ll do anything to start a new world and survive what God has thrown at him.
“Now sometimes tomorrow comes soaked in treasure and blood. Here we stood the drought. Now we’ll stand the flood. There’s a new world coming. I can see the light. I’m a Jack of all trades. We’ll be alright.” – Jack of All Trades
Side three contains the title track and anthem from 2009, “Wrecking Ball.” The song sounds wonderful with beautiful orchestral tracks that crescendo with Bruce’s heartfelt and inspirational lyrics. You can hear the love Bruce has for his home state in his voice, which has sang love for his home for over 42 years.
Clemons has a sax part featured on “Wrecking Ball.”
The side ends with “Rocky Ground,” a track that features hip-hop beats and rapping in between Springsteen’s powerful vocals. When one thinks of The Boss rap does not come to mind. The lyrics flowed tastefully and the message of overcoming adversity rang clear. Stylistically, the track became a speed bump on the album, stopping the flow of that rough pop-rock people expected.
The final side starts with the powerful track “The Land of Hope and Dreams,” a song written in 1999. Clemons’s horn can be heard all over this track. The entire ensemble takes part in this track, making a sound similar to the Born to Run days. The song shines grandeur and passion.
“Big Wheels rolling through fields where sunlight streams, meet me in a land of hope and dreams.”
– The chorus of “Land of Hope and Dreams”
The original release ends with a Seeger-inspired tune, “We Are Alive.” A banjo twangs throughout the song, adding to the folk-like sound. Bruce sings short and simple lyrics, bookending the album with a song that comes straight from his roots.
“We are alive, and though our bodies lie alone here in the dark, our spirits rise to carry the fire and light the spark to stand shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart”
– The chorus to “We Are Alive”
The bonus version includes two tracks, “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” and “American Land.”
Springsteen played “American Land” near the end of most of his sets on the 2009 Working on a Dream tour. The Irish jig/rock song inspires patriotism and hope for the future of America.
Springsteen has once again taken the hearts of his listeners. Wrecking Ball may not be remembered like a Born to Run but certainly has the same lyrical and musical weight as all his albums. Despite losing the iconic Clemons, The E Street Band will hopefully continue to play and be a part of Springsteen’s career for as long as the two play.