We Take Care of Our Own, Bruce Springsteen
I can only start this review by admitting my lifelong love of Bruce Springsteen’s music. I personally believe that he’s the strongest lyrically-focused songwriter of Rock’s first three decades (’50s, ’60s and ’70s), and that Josh Ritter is probably the only writer who has been able to match up to him since his emergence in 1973. Obviously these bold claims rely heavily on my personal affection for imagery and narrative, but I’d be willing to argue that mastery of those styles truly sets the great lyricists apart from the rest.
Over the course of his career I’ve noticed that Springsteen writes his best songs when he focuses intently on a specific subject, whether it’s the state of America in the wake of 9/11 (The Rising), his complicated relationship with the shoreline towns of Jersey (his first 3 albums) or the collapse of his first marriage (Tunnel of Love). Unfortunately not all of his albums have had such specific and passionate motivating subjects, leaving us with duds like Human Touch/Lucky Town and most of the tracks on Born in the USA. After this aimlessness spoiled his last two releases, the uninspired Magic and the half-baked Working on a Dream, I can’t help but feel apprehensive about the newly-announced Wrecking Ball, and having listened to the patricarchally-titled single We Take Care of Our Own, I can’t say this apprehension has eased any.
Musically, this new track feels like a return to Rising-era ambition, with its prevalent violin riff, layered background vocals and heavily-present drums. I’m happy about the departure from the guitar-laden sound that producer Brendan O’Brien seemed to favor on the last two albums. I’ve heard whisperings of new textures to come on this new album, which I can see bringing welcome freshness and challenges to Bruce’s style, but this track stays solidly within his established comfort zone. The composition and form of “We Take Care of Our Own” are similarly reminiscent of his Rising songs, especially with the repeated lines in the refrain and towards the end of the track. Its rallying-cry nature should make for some fantastic live performances on tour this spring, so look forward to that.
As much as I like the sentiment of the lyrics, I think the writing feels awkward and clunky in a lot of places. Especially when accompanied by the written lyrics as in the official YouTube release, the phrasing lacks intuitive flow in several lines. There are annoying little jagged edges all over the place, like the extra syllable in “the road to good intentions has gone dry as a bone” or the forced rhyming between words like “home” and “blowin’” in the second verse. It comes off as unpolished and somewhat careless, which I hate to see from a writer who spent over six months re-writing and perfecting the words to Born to Run‘s title track alone.
I’m not giving up on this album yet, especially considering the promises of new stylistic textures and the inclusion of formidable tracks like the anthemic live-staple “Land of Hope and Dreams,” but I admit to being a little bit worried. I’m both confident and glad that the rest of the album won’t sound like this track, because even though it’s on the right track, this song definitely falls short of Bruce’s creative potential.