First take: Bruce Springsteen's patriotic 'We Take Care of Our Own'
Bruce Springsteen released his new single, "We Take Care of Our Own," Thursday morning, and what's most striking about it on first listen is how much it sounds like ... The Boss. It's the first song from his forthcoming 11-track album, his 17th, "Wrecking Ball," which will be released on March 6.
Never one to stray too far from his core mission of crafting solidly structured rock songs built on a blueprint passed down from American generation to generation, "We Take Care of Our Own" -- except for one modern wash of guitar, a few echoed drum pops, and one (big) glaring absence -- sounds like a track that could have been on any his classic albums from 1975 to 1984, from "Born to Run" through "Born in the U.S.A." (excluding his acoustic "Nebraska"). These records are undeniably rock 'n' roll and constructed with the help of his E Street Band.
His first recording since the death of saxophonist Clarence Clemons, the new song is notable for what's not there -- the horn player's sonic bursts and furious tenor declarations. Absent too is an indication of whether the music is constructed by the E Street Band or whether, like his most recent studio album, "Working on a Dream," it is a solo record. The backing band suggests the former, as does the glockenspiel a la "She's the One," the hum of the organ and the piano melody, coupled with a Phil Spector-esque string section drifting above.
And then there are the lyrics, which offer an affirmation of national glory without ever uttering the word "America," suggest the economic struggles without calling them "economic struggles." Sings Springsteen in his husk of a voice: "I've been knocking on that door that holds the throne," and it's not clear whether the Boss is talking about death, desperation or desire -- or whether he's written a pointed response to Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" (probably not, but it's fun to think about). "I've been looking for a map that leads me home/The road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone."
As the song unfolds, Springsteen clarifies his point: This is a song about the country and hardship, but also about community and pride: "We take care of our own/Wherever this flag is flown/We take care of our own."
Granted, the title phrase borders on jingoism, and in the wrong hands can be both used to justify actions noble and contemptible, from coming together as a family to help kin, to protecting territory from outsiders a la "Deliverance." "There ain't no help the cavalry stayed at home," he sings, "There ain't no one hearing the bugle blowing" (a veiled reference to Clemons?).
Is it classic Springsteen? Comments are open for your response. But mostly it depends on which Bruce you like: the one who sets out to be the Voice of the People and speak for the 99% a la Woody Guthrie, or the one who goes small and captures the voice of a single character a la "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and "State Trooper." The new song is much more the former than the latter; Springsteen obviously knows what time it is, and it's time to step up and say something big.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Bruce Springsteen photographed at the Convention Hall in Asbury Park, N.J., in 2009. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times