First off – thank everything ever that Columbia isn't sitting on this record for an entire quarter. The record was only played for label executives within the last couple weeks, and already the release date is announced for March 6, which will certainly provide a ramp-up to Springsteen's gig giving the keynote at SXSW and the rumored tour dates that surround that keynote address. However, if The Boss really is going to start touring in early March, his camp sure is waiting for the last possible moment to announce it.
Alright, so here's what we know: Wrecking Ball will be out 3/6/12 and it includes 11 "new" songs. I put the "new" in air quotes there because Springsteen diehards have heard the title track plenty of times. He wrote the song to dedicate to the closing of Giants Stadium back in 2009. "Land of Hopes and Dreams" is also listed in the tracklisting, but this is an old, old B-side from The Rising. In fact, "Hopes and Dreams" was technically released twice –*once in a CD single of the title track from that record, and again in an official live version on Springsteen's Essential compilation. Please don't judge me for knowing these things off the top of my head. One of the bonus songs, "American Land," has been a staple song in The Boss' encore since the release of the Seeger Sessions. Here's the artwork and tracklist before I delve into the song:
The first song released from the album is the opener, "We Take Care of Our Own." Feel free to listen to the lyric video below as I dissect the track:
As one should with any Springsteen track, let's split this between the musicianship and the lyrics...
Musicianship: Quite phenomenally, this song provides a cross-reference to all of Springsteen's work within the past decade. The strings accompanying the entire track are reminiscent of The Rising era, with just one listen to "Lonesome Day" providing the perfect reference point. The background harmonies are pretty poppy and very much Working On A Dream-esque. Dream's problems stemmed from many places, but having remnants of the musicianship shouldn't make anyone upset. Sure, it was fairly straightforward, but this song provides much more depth. There hasn't been a Springsteen song with this much kick-drum in a long time –*in fact, I'm thinking all the way back to "Murder Incorporated" ... but I guess "Waiting On A Sunny Day" is a fair point to bring up here. Springsteen's vocals remind me of a cross between the almost whispered secrets on Devils & Dust and the more pronounced determinism brought forward in songs from Magic like "Long Way Home" or "Devil's Arcade." The vocals are easily my favorite part of the track. The only certain thing is the downright accessibility and infinite replayability of the track; a great opening song and a perfect first song to release. Regardless, let's hope for some depth in the guitars and accompanying musicianship in deeper cuts –*it should be a safe bet to count on those.
Lyricism: Despite being almost painstakingly simple, these lyrics will rouse up intense misguidedness. One listen to the chorus of, "Wherever this flag's flown / We take care of our own," shows you how energetic and patriotic of an anthem this song is, right? Wrong. This has happened before. In fact, I just wrote a term paper about this last semester. In 1985, on Born In the U.S.A., Springsteen's opening title track was mistaken by Reagan's campaign team as patriotic stance in favor of Reaganomics – quite the opposite. Delving into the lyricism of that song reveals a passionate stance in favor of the perpetual struggle of Middle America, and "We Take Care of Our Own" follows the trend to a T. It's almost scary, really, as Barack Obama –*a Boss fan himself –*seems absolutely capable of using this track as a re-election anthem, with images of fluttering American flags behind him. Breaking down a the verses will show us more than we need:
I've been knockin' on the door that holds the throne
I've been lookin' for the map that leads me home
I've been stumblin' on good hearts turned to stone
The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone
From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled "help" but the cavalry stayed home
There ain't no-one hearing the bugle blown
Where the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
Where the hearts, that run over with mercy
Where's the love that has not forsaken me
Where's the work that set my hands, my soul free
Where's the spirit that'll reign, reign over me
There is obviously more than one way to interpret the song's message. In my personal opinion, Springsteen is describing an American looking for the right path, trying to do the right thing and turning up empty –*"I've been lookin' for the map that leads me home ... The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone." The second verse is evidently a cry for help gone unanswered, while the third verse devolves into a man at a loss for work and faith. The chorus, to me, can go two possible ways. It's could be a mocking shot at the government, saying they take care of Americans, yet directly contrasting the struggling subject of the song. The government "takes care" of us, but we're all struggling. It could also be a commentary on the human culture to "take care of our own" ... as in, we are only concerned with helping ourselves and each other, while not willing to help out strangers.
Whatever way you choose to interpret it, the song is bound to raise dueling commentary. It's also bound to be put on repeat for hours. Wrecking Ball is sure to be a driving force in Springsteen's catalog.