In September of last year, Bruce Springsteen joined his fellow Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer Paul McCartney as a Social Security recipient. Coincidentally, this past month, these two legends both released new albums.
For Bruce, it has been little over two years since his release of “Working on a Dream” in 2009. As for the remaining half of the chart-topping Lennon/ McCartney duo, this new album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” is his first since 2003. McCartney’s album brings his listeners back in time with covers of jazzpop standards out of The Great American Songbook and only two songs of his own. On the other hand, Springsteen’s new album, “Wrecking Ball,” returns to The Boss’s classic critique of human nature and juxtaposes it with the glory of the “good ol’ days” of love and passion in the heart of New Jersey.
Though “Wrecking Ball” is one of the better albums that Springsteen has released in a while, it doesn’t even compare to the megaliths of his 20thcentury canon: “Born to Run” (1976), “Greeting From Asbury Park” (1975), and “Born in the USA” (1980). I will say, however, that it most certainly surpasses “Devils & Dust” (2006), “Magic” (2007), and “Working on a Dream” (2009), his only three studios albums released since 2002’s “The Rising,” written in honor of 9/11.
When Springsteen was at his finest in the 1970s and 1980s, he was incredibly intouch with the voice of the workingman, and he was able to convey that sentiment in his lyrics. However, when he split from his former and current band, the E Street Band, in the late 1990s and entered a brief period of releasing albums with studio musicians until 2008, his lyrics began to sound like condescending preaching. With “Wrecking Ball,” Bruce returns to the relatable style that made him one of the world’s most popular artists.
The clear influence of Bruce’s folk-music hero Pete Seeger is evident with tracks like “Death to My Hometown” and “Shackled and Drawn,” both of which incorporate strong workingman’s lyrics combined with heavy Irish-folk instrumentals. The Boss also brings two of his older songs, “Wrecking Ball” and “Land of Hope and Dreams,” to the studio for the first time. Springsteen debuted “Wrecking Ball” at his final concert at the old Giants’ Stadium as a send-off of sorts. The song is a remarkable guitar-driven track with an expanded horn section, in addition to the well-known Springsteen saxophone. It explores the notion that as time goes on, things change, but it is important to maintain a strong sense of self. “Land of Hope and Dreams” had been originally recorded live during a concert in 2001 at Madison Square Garden, and 11 years later, Springsteen finally brought it to the studio.
After losing his saxophone player and dear friend Clarence Clemons last year, “Wrecking Ball” turned out to be a much needed win for The Boss.
McCartney’s album, on the other hand, is largely unsatisfying. Though it is reassuring to hear the rock legend’s voice once again after so many years, he does not do himself justice. It seems as though, instead of playing to his songwriting ability, McCartney used his incredible amount of pull in the music industry to release his passion project to the public.
And though McCartney deserves some credit for the majority of the arrangements and musicianship that went into the album, he did receive some help from guitarist Eric Clapton. Clapton brings an immense amount of soul and patience with his acoustic guitar riffs on “My Valentine,” in particular.
Out of the abundance of mundane covers that seem to chalk up to not much more than a mediocre Tony Bennett impression, the highlight of McCartney’s album would have to be his cover of “Bye Bye Blackbird,” a song that represents love and the sad goodbyes that often come along with it. This track uses a slow swinging rhythm to give it elements of a jazz tune, as well as a ballad. The string section is in harmony with the clear piano riffs to accentuate this feel.
It is undeniable that Paul McCartney deserves the utmost respect, but at 69 years of age, having spent his life revolutionizing music and reaching audiences worldwide, it may just be time for him to hang up his mic.
These two now-elderly rock legends definitely took chances with their recent releases, but only Bruce really succeeded. However, in a modern era that lacks true musicianship, songwriting ability, and overall passion, it is sort of nice to hear from the guys who really know how it’s done. There is no need to question the success or musicianship of either of these men, at ages 62 and 69, but in their ever-changing musical journeys which will seemingly be culminating in the not-sodistant future, it seems that they will keep trying until they have nothing left.