I think this is a really fine Springsteen album. Although I have been a fan for decades I don't think that every album is a classic, but I suspect that this may turn out to be one. The man certainly hasn't lost any of his ability to write a fine song, and there is a passion and often a rage running through Wrecking Ball which gives it real power. There is also a variety of material and styles here - country, gospel and even a little rap make an appearance - with some deeply introspective, almost Nebraska-style moments through to driving rockers like the title track, which I find makes the whole thing a riveting listen from beginning to end.
It is the rage which strikes you most forcibly. Springsteen has always had a passionate love of his country and of its ordinary, decent people. He now also has a raw despair and fury at those who cheat those people and twist his country away from what he thinks it should and could be. This is thunderously and uncompromisingly overt in several songs - for example Jack Of All Trades ("If I had me a gun I'd find the bastards and shoot `em on sight") and Death To My Hometown:
"...Send the robber barons straight to hell -
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
And brought death to my hometown."
Powerful stuff, and a great song which is sung with a fury and blame very different from the sad, fatalistic acceptance of economic hardship in songs like The River and My Hometown in the 80s. There is more on this album than just rage, though. Springsteen's strength as a songwriter has always been his ability to write a good, straightforward tune and to convey important human experiences and truths through singing about the small specifics of life, especially working life. He does a great job of that on this album and it is also good to see that he can still write a fine, direct love/lust song in You Got It.
That great voice is still just as great, and the production is, as always, excellent. There is, of course, one giant absentee and I found the huge gap left by Clarence Clemons yawned at me on occasions, despite a fine brass section. Clarence makes his only appearance on Land Of Hope And Dreams - Track 10 - and to hear him suddenly so far through the album was almost unbearably poignant. It is a great tribute to a man whose sound I have loved and which has followed me down three decades and more.
I warmly recommend this album, especially to those who may be wondering whether they really need another Springsteen album. I think you do need this one - it is excellent.
(By the way, the Deluxe Edition contains two extra songs tagged onto the end. For what it's worth, I think they are OK but nothing special. You may want to spend the little extra for the sake of completeness and for the extra artwork, but my feeling is that the album comes to a natural, well-judged close with We Are Alive and I actually prefer the album without them.)