Bring on your Wrecking Ball–Two weeks early!

Christmas came way early Sunday night in the form of the new Springsteen album leaking more than two weeks before its release date.

Not that I really know from Christmas, being Jewish, but it sounds better than saying Hanukkah came early. And it really was more like Christmas because I got all of the songs at once, as opposed to the E Street Radio and Backstreets.com Chinese-water-torture-Hanukkah method of playing one new song a day until the album comes out.

So a mere ten minutes after I got the first message containing the link to the album (which was AGONIZING because the little status bar SAID I only had to wait six minutes. I swear, between that and the Ticketmaster “Your wait time is 15 minutes” message, I’m going to stroke out the next time I get an inaccurate wait time for something online), I was listening to Wrecking Ball. And even though it turns out that my next door neighbor IS, in fact, alive and well (which, in his case, means angry and bitter), I cranked it. Because that’s what you do when you listen to new Bruce.

And in case you’re not tech savvy enough to have the album yet (or don’t have friends like mine who will send it to you—I won’t name names, but you know who you are, and thank you! <3), or if you’re just DYING to know my take on it because I’m the girl who literally wrote the book on being a Bruce fan, I’m going to break it down, song by song for you.


1. “We Take Care of Our Own”

Okay, you’ve already heard this one. And if you haven’t, you’ve been living under a rock, and if that’s the case, how are you reading this blog? I’m not going to go into WTCOOO though, because you either already get it or you already think it’s a “Yay America!” song for you to pump your fist to in concert while you pat yourself on the back saying, “We DO take care of our own! Go us!”

And you wonder why I’m so misanthropic. People are idiots.

2. “Easy Money”

The second song on the album is the first real clue that this isn’t your typical Bruce album. You couldn’t take this song and slap it onto any other album and make it fit. It’s a country song. And while I normally hate country music, I get where he’s going with this one. Maybe he eased me into it with the Seeger sessions and all, but I’m already finding myself singing along and dancing a little to this. Granted, I’m dancing like a drunk chick at a country show, so it’s not something you’d WANT to see. But it kind of makes me want to buy a cowboy hat and some boots.

3. “Shackled and Drawn”

Eesh. It’s a country album isn’t it? Oh crap, Bruce went country. And he’s kind of yodeling. I’m never going live this down with people who already make fun of me for being obsessed with him, am I? I don’t even think I can make the folk argument that we could with the Seeger sessions. This is country. And I like it. It’s got a good beat to it. And it’s catchy. Even with the gospel-y background singers. And the yodeling. Do you think they make stiletto cowboy boots?

4. “Jack of All Trades”

I have a feeling this is going to be the bathroom break song of the tour. (Assuming he doesn’t bring “Mary’s Place” back that is.) It’s not bad. And lyrically, it’s one of the strongest on the album because it has a seriously poignant message about the current state of the economy and what’s happening to people who are losing their ability to earn a living. The problem is that it’s just too slow. It kind of reminds me of “Devil’s Arcade” in that it SHOULD be a great song. The story of it is fabulous. But musically, it’s a slow waltz. Like I could picture it being the song for a music box that you wind up and there’s a little animatronic Bruce and Patti waltzing across a darkened stage. It feels like “Cherry Blossoms” off of the Horrible Crowes’ debut album Elsie—it just drags the party down too much. I like it, but I don’t think this is going to get much airtime on my iPod.

5. “Death to My Hometown”

Love it. It’s got that folksy-country feel to it that most of this album has, but I think that this one is going to rock live. It has a passion to it that I haven’t felt on this album since the opening track. There’s a solid beat, and I can picture Bruce making his angry guitar face when he’s declaring that they “brought death to my hometown, boys.” 

Although from 2:15 to 2:35, Bruce kind of channeled the Grateful Dead’s “Throwing Stones” and I definitely started singing “So the kids they dance, they shake their bones, while the politicians throwing stones, singing ashes, ashes all fall down,” then was like, oops, wrong song… But I like that one too, so it works.

6. “This Depression”

This one is going to get old fast. Mostly because the confession-depression rhyme is repeated WAY too much. I could see this song fitting on The Rising or Magic pretty easily. It’s not as good of a story as “Jack of All Trades,” but it doesn’t stop the album like that one does. I’ll keep listening, but I think this one is a throwaway for me so far.

7. “Wrecking Ball”

On first listen, I was super disappointed by the title track. Partially because I was at Giants Stadium the second time that he played it, which was the show that the live released version and video were recorded at. And the album version lacks the passion, the fire, the spirit, the—well, the Bruce-ness of the live version. This one sounds like someone’s grandpa telling a story. I half expected him to add a verse saying, “Sonny, when I was your age, I had to walk ten miles to school every day, barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.”

But then I really thought about it. Because in its original form, this is the one song that doesn’t fit in on an album about the economic injustice of the country right now. The original was a fun rocker to close the last shows at the Meadowlands with. So why on earth would Bruce pick THAT song as the title song of the album? Then I understood the grandpa-ish feel of the new version. It makes it more neutral, less about Bruce in Giants Stadium. I think I still prefer the live version, but I get what he’s going for here. And maybe the real album version, not the leaked mp3s will sound a little thicker and a little less tinny.

8. “You’ve Got It”

Hey, I remember this song! It used to be called “All or Nothin’ At All,” was a lot faster, and was on the album Human Touch. Wasn’t it?

Bruce, I love you. But that’s NOT the album to be pulling outtakes from.

9. “Rocky Ground”

I have a feeling most Bruce fans are going to HATE this one. It actually manages to combine Bruce, gospel, and rap in one song. I’m not big on gospel or rap, but this is kind of cool. And even if you hate it, you’ve got to appreciate that Bruce can branch out instead of just producing the same album over and over again in different forms. (And for that, I like this song way better than “You’ve Got It,” which seriously does feel like a recycle.)

10. “Land of Hope and Dreams”

After a dozen years of playing this one live, it was an interesting choice to put on the new album. And in the first thirty seconds of the song, I worried. A lot. Because the gospel thing at the beginning did not work for me. But a studio LOHAD was worth the wait. It feels pure and redemptive and better than it’s felt live in years. And that last recorded solo from Clarence brought tears to my eyes.

I also kind of wondered at the lack of a song for Clarence on this album. Terry Magovern got “Terry’s Song.” Danny Federici got “The Last Carnival.” But listening to “Land of Hope and Dreams,” Bruce doesn’t need to tack on a song for Clarence. Because Clarence really WAS the biggest man you’ve ever seen. He got to play on his own goodbye song. And I think that’s the most fitting tribute to him that there could ever be.


11. “We Are Alive”

Okay, ignoring the Zippity Doo Dah riff that comes in at about 1:45 (…and at 2:45… and at 4:30…) and the weird foot stomping in the middle of the song, this one is kind of cool. Yeah, it’s more Seeger than E Street. But I like the lyrics. Even though I do picture Snow White’s animals cleaning the house while whistling this one.

So there you have it. It’s a VERY different album. And as several people who have heard it before have said, E Street it isn’t. (Wow, I just turned into Yoda there… sorry.) But even though it’s not Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town, I think new Bruce music is like sex. Even if it’s bad, it’s still new Bruce music, which is better than no new Bruce music. And this is far from bad—it’s just trying something new that will take a little getting used to.

Just don’t judge me if you see me at shows next month rocking a cowboy hat and boots. A few more listens and you may be doing the same!

A band I listen to MORE than Springsteen on a daily basis: The Gaslight Anthem

Every time a new Springsteen album comes out (or an old one is re-issued, as was the case this week), I get asked the same question over and over again by everyone I know: Do you listen to anything OTHER than Bruce?

No. My music library, which is 22.2 DAYS long, is comprised entirely of Bruce Springsteen music and songs that Bruce guested on. That’s all I listen to. Ever.

Come on.  Bruce may be my all-time favorite, but I have almost 300 artists in my iTunes library. And when there isn’t a new album monopolizing my stereo, an average day usually sees me listening to other artists far more than Bruce.

Sacrilege, I know.

But even the best classic rock albums start to feel stale if you don’t give them a break and mix it up with something new. Which is where one of my relatively new favorite bands, The Gaslight Anthem, comes in handy.

Bruce fans were introduced to the Gaslight Anthem after he played with them on one of their songs in London in 2009. I had heard of them from that, but despite Bruce’s endorsement, I didn’t download any of their songs until I caught “Old White Lincoln” on XM radio and LOVED it. And unlike Bruce’s music, which I didn’t really get into until college even though it had been in the background of my life since I was in utero, it was love at first listen.

So if you’re not already listening to my second favorite New Jersey group, here’s where to start and why you should:

Album to start with: The ‘59 Sound.
The '59 Sound

While I think there are arguments for all three (and a half) of their albums, I think their second full-length album is their most accessible for someone who isn’t familiar with their music yet. The others are equally awesome in different ways, and my vote ALMOST went to their first album, Sink or Swim, because of the song “Wooderson,” which has a Matthew McConaughey-style “alright alright” in the chorus and therefore cracks me up.

But I still think that The ‘59 Sound is the best place to start.

The tracks to start listening to:

“Great Expectations”—I’m not a big Charles Dickens fan (as I explained last week), so I was a little skeptical when I saw the name of the album’s first track, but I was impressed by what Gaslight did with it. Because the song only touches on the novel as a symbol for a failed relationship and the inability to trust after a lover leaves. The narrator, like Great Expectations’ Pip, is writing poetry about Estella, but he also poses the question that I think all people have asked themselves at some point, “Everybody leaves, so why wouldn’t you?”

“The ’59 Sound”—It’s hard to have an upbeat song about a friend dying in a car crash, but in this case, it works. We get another Dickens reference in this one, as the narrator hopes he doesn’t “hear Marley’s chains we forged in life” when death comes, and instead is hoping that his lost friend heard his favorite song at the end. This is the one that Bruce played with the band in 2009, and, despite the serious subject of the lyrics, I can’t watch this video without smiling at how happy the whole band looks to have him out there with them.

“Old White Lincoln”—This was the first song of theirs that I heard. It’s not as deep as the rest of the songs on the album, but it’s a fun, upbeat rocker. And when I’m listening to an album, that’s the first thing that usually gets me listening to it long enough to appreciate the full value of the album. It’s a great song to blast on a nice day with the windows open in your car.

“High Lonesome” and “Meet Me by the River’s Edge”—Because I’m a music nerd, I got all excited the first time I listened to these songs. Why? Because they reference two of my other favorite musicians, Springsteen and the Counting Crows.  Listening to these songs made it click why I felt such a strong connection to the Gaslight Anthem’s music. Yeah, the band members are covered in tattoos and don’t seem like they would have much in common with an English teacher from Maryland, but these guys grew up loving the same music that I love. And they accomplish the same thing with their songs that makes me love Bruce Springsteen’s music: their songs feel like they could be about my life, which forges a sense of connection and shows me that I’m not alone in what I think and feel.

“Cassanova, Baby!”—I’m warning you now, this WILL get stuck in your head. But unlike the Cee-Lo song that Gwenyth Paltrow covered on Glee this week, you won’t WANT to get this song out of your head. (Seriously.  I NEED to get that song out of my head.  I’m going nuts here.  Stupid Glee, I wish I didn’t love you so much!)  It’s got a slight “Born to Run” vibe, with the idea of running all night and dancing on the architecture, but it’s more about having fun than needing to escape. And it’s a great workout song when you need to get motivated.

“Here’s Looking At You, Kid”—This song is absolutely gorgeous. It’s another one about lost loves, and really drives home the point that some of those relationships never really leave you even after you leave them. All I can say is that if any of the girls in this song are based on real people, they were idiots to leave anyone who could write a song like this about them.

“The Backseat”—this is their concert closer every night, and with good reason. This song is a tough act to follow. Live, it’s epic in a way I can’t really explain unless you’ve experienced it. Like a lot of the other songs on this album, there are references to Springsteen songs, which, growing up as musicians in Jersey, I think are hard to avoid. But the references in this song are thematic more than lyrical. It’s a summer song, reminiscent of the feel of Born to Run (the album, not the song), with a hint of “Sandy” in the line “if you never let me go, I will never let you down.” In concert, I think it’s a really good thing that these guys are now headlining shows, because I would hate to be the band that came on following this song. It’d be like sending another band out after “Born to Run” (the song).

Listen to this album. And when you love it, which you will, check out their other albums as well. Everyone I know who has listened to the Gaslight Anthem, from my students (whose tastes tend to be limited to Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift) to my parents, has wound up loving them. And if you start listening to them now, you’ll be able to say you were listening to them BEFORE they were huge. Which they will be. Because they’re THAT good.

And they have more songs on my current iTunes playlist than Bruce does right now—even WITH the new Darkness release. And in my world, that’s the highest praise there is.

My “little sister” Lynnlee, Gaslight Anthem lead singer Brian Fallon, and me in Baltimore, September 2010