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Monday 18 December 2017

The Boss lets fly at the 'robber barons' who destroyed dream

"You can never go wrong in rock 'n' roll when you're p***ed off," according to Bruce Springsteen.

In Paris yesterday to unveil his new album, 'Wrecking Ball', to the world's media, Mr Springsteen admitted it had been written in a spirit of political anger.

"My work has always been about judging the distance between American reality and the American Dream," he said.

Right now, he suggested, the distance was greater than it had ever been in his lifetime.

With the financial crisis, "an enormous fault line cracked the American system wide open, and its repercussions are just beginning to be felt," he said.

'Wrecking Ball' is the 17th studio album from America's blue-collar rock icon. Befitting troubled times for the working man, it is Mr Springsteen's most overtly political collection of songs. The title, he said, reflects "the flat destruction of some American ideals and values over the last 30 years".

While the album is underpinned by a dark fury, in person Mr Springsteen was relaxed. Asked if he felt that his role as a voice of protest was a burden, he laughed out loud. "I'm terribly burdened at night when I'm sleeping in my big house. It's killing me," he joked.

Actually, he conceded, just to be a musician was: "A charmed life."

But he spoke eloquently about his family background, how growing up in a household where his father had been "emasculated" by long-term unemployment fuelled his interest in the underlying political causes, describing his songwriting as "having a conversation with myself".

If so, it is a conversation that is taking a bleak turn. Mr Springsteen has long chronicled the underbelly of the American Dream but this time he sounds sad, angry and even, at times, close to defeat. It is his 'Grapes of Wrath', an album for the New Depression.

Despite the anthemic roar and gutsy drive of the opening track, 'We Take Care of Our Own', 'Wrecking Ball' is not the kind of back-to-basics E Street rock Mr Springsteen has been essaying in recent years.

Reaching into the raucous roots of his Seeger Sessions, referencing gospel, folk and blues while bringing in drum loops, hints of hip-hop and a raw mix that pushes vocals high, Mr Springsteen appears keen to build bridges between the past and the present.

There is, in the essence of Mr Springsteen's oeuvre, a very American sense of exulting in the heroic underdog, but here there is a blackness to his mood, fuelled not just by the sense that the dignity of the working man is being assaulted and undermined, but that such assaults are, perhaps, a politically inevitable expression of the very character of the nation.

Time and again, Mr Springsteen sets the image of the honest toiler against "bankers", "fat cats" and "robber barons".

"An outrageous theft occurred that struck to the heart of the American idea," suggested Mr Springsteen. "And there has been no accountability."

He does, however, see cause for optimism. "The Occupy Wall Street movement has been powerful about changing the national conversation. The Tea Party set the conversation for a while but now people are talking about economic equality. That's a conversation America hasn't had for 20 years."

There is also a religious dimension to Mr Springsteen's latest songs. The album shifts towards the spiritual uplift of gospel music in its rousing finale, evoking Jesus and the risen dead.

"I got brainwashed as a child with Catholicism," joked Mr Springsteen, who says biblical imagery increasingly creeps into his songs almost unbidden. "It's like Al Pacino in 'The Godfather': I try to get out but they pull you back in!"

Mr Springsteen supported Mr Obama's presidential campaign, and 'We Take Care of Our Own' has already been added to the Obama re-election playlist, yet the often bitter tone of the album suggests Springsteen is not impressed with the powers-that-be.

He admitted, however, that he still supports Mr Obama, who he felt had achieved some things in a difficult political environment. Mr Springsteen doubted he would be actively involved in Mr Obama's campaign, however. "As an artist, it's better to maintain a certain distance from the seat of power."

He said the only thing he was really good at was making music. "I enjoy artists who like to take on the world as well as entertain their audience. I write to process my own experiences and if I can do that for me, I hope I can do that for you."

He did, however, suggest that Mr Obama could have a shot at his job. "Obama can sing!" he joked, referring to the presidential karaoke performance on YouTube.

"Let's stick together," croaked Mr Springsteen, then laughed. "He's better than me! I can't sing that!" (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

'Wrecking Ball' is released on March 5. Springsteen plays Dublin on July 17 and 18.

Irish Independent

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