Nearly three decades ago, Bruce Springsteen wrote with sadness about a man showing his young son a hometown ravaged by outside economic forces, a town the family was about to leave.
He’s not sad now. He’s angry, mighty angry. On the new song, “Death to My Hometown,” he wants to “send the robber barons straight to hell, the greedy thieves who came around and ate the flesh of everything they found, whose crimes have gone unpunished now, who walk the streets as free men now.”
With economic injustice, Springsteen’s powerful new disc has a subject he can sink his teeth into, and he matches it with music that has some of the same clenched fury.
The working man who “always loved the feel of sweat on my shirt” now wakes up each morning feeling imprisoned in a system stacked against him. In “Jack of All Trades,” another versatile worker recites the jobs he can do, ending with a blunt and horrific description of how he’d like to treat those he’s worked for.
The anthemic “We Take Care of Our Own” is made more important because it’s not true anymore. There have been notable failures to live up to that sentiment and, frankly, not everyone agrees with it.
This is not an E Street Band record. Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent are not among the 31 credited musicians. Springsteen sounds creatively energized working with new sounds and with some new people, most notably producer Ron Aniello, guitarist Tom Morello and singer Michelle Moore.
Fortunately, Springsteen doesn’t leave his listeners in a ditch. A studio recording of “Land of Hope and Dreams,” a track released in a live version a decade ago, is a gospel heartwarmer that masterfully calls in the memory of Curtis Mayfield. It packs an emotional wallop, too, with one of the late Clarence Clemons’ last sax solos.
The album-closing “We Are Alive” offers similar hope, too, tying together people who took stands for workers’, civil and immigration rights and paid with their lives.
The title track is about the tearing down of Giants Stadium, an arena Springsteen made his own over many years, yet it provides a line that best sums up the singer’s message on this disc: “Hold tight to your anger,” he sings. “And don’t fall to your fears.”
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: “You’ve Got It,” the only inward-looking track here, is a sultry love song that builds musically to a terrific release when Matt Chamberlain’s drums kick in.