Springsteen's New Album Wrecks Faith
"Why does he sing like that, he's from New Jersey!" a friend cracked when Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska debuted in 1982. Nebraska's affected Oakie drawl?fashioning a down-home, pessimistic response to President Reagan's "Morning in America"?has since become Springsteen's formal vocal register. His method-acted empathy with our mythic depressed underclass marked the turning point when Springsteen stopped being simply a rock star and began running for public office. His new album Wrecking Ball resembles a candidate's campaign strategy through its 11 stump speech tracks in which Springsteen mouths Occupy Wall Street rhetoric, endorsing without stopping to examine it.
Never mind that millionaire Springsteen belongs to the 1 percent elite OWS villainizes, or that his nickname "The Boss" perpetuates the hierarchy working folk both acquiesce to and resent. (Remember President Obama's smiley complicity with Bruce about his whip-cracking soubriquet? Springsteen recently returned the compliment, dedicating the new album to Obama's reelection bid.) Springsteen's legendary romanticism (based on albums that made a magnanimous jamboree of rock-n-roll ethos) usually allows him to slip past such hypocrisies. Until now.
Wrecking Ball repackages the cant emanating from OWS. Even its fawning reviews evince the way sentimentality obscures the movement, pushing Springsteen past an artist's openmindedness. Pity and hostility defines Springsteen's new no-name characters. Their sob stories are lachrymose more than realistic. They are the rhetorical equivalent of crocodile tears?emotionalizing facts of struggle and hardship that once were the definition of American character.
Springsteen's underclass guise on Wrecking Ball is meant to be an act of solidarity with OWS, yet it embraces so much pessimism and contrived anger, that instead of sounding quintessentially American, it feels as ersatz that New Jersey Turnpike lonesome prairie drawl. He wants to endow OWS with the same romantic rebellion that Nebraska gave to its alienated, post-60s American malcontents. The new album goes from rallying cries to fatalistic ballads, dirges to gospelly rants?transparent efforts of populist suasion. It's all an attempt at modern mythification, unsurprisingly praised in the media as part of the mass delusion that has overtaken Left politics for the past 12 years.
Like OWS, Springsteen attempts snatching back the glory days of '60s dissent without the ethical commitment and emotional sacrifice once required. Sacrifice might be felt by the current recession, but minus the '60s moral impulse (spiritual inspiration, love), this purely political abreaction lacks equivalent impact. Neither the movement, nor the album, are galvanizing.
Having misjudged the motivations of disenfranchised Americans who are incensed more than informed, Springsteen soft-headedly emulates their plaint; his corroboration turns sour. Touted as his "angriest" album yet, it also sounds like a slick politician's con. On Wrecking Ball, Springsteen slips down the rabbit hole of Liberal piety, unaware how querulous and downright anti-social it has become. The sorrowful lyrics echo those who are certain of their aggrieved moral superiority to an irritating degree. This stance has coarsened Springsteen's once heartfelt artistry (the double-vision of "Highway Patrolman" and "Ties That Bind") into mere propaganda.
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