Friday, February 24, 2012

First Impressions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” – Track #6 – “This Depression” - Listen to the new song online at "The Key" website!

Photo courtesy of "The Key," courtesy of the artist
To hype the March 6th release of his new album, Wrecking Ball, Bruce Springsteen is releasing each of the record’s eleven tracks online, one per day, streaming for free at various music websites.  I’ll be giving you my first impressions – not reviews, mind you, as I’m not comfortable reviewing anything without hearing the full album – of each track as they are streamed.  Today, we’re looking at Track #6, “This Depression,” streaming for free all day at Philly’s “The Key” website.  The song isn’t necessarily a classic on its own, but it’s definitely a crucial part of the album as a whole.  There won’t be any songs streaming this weekend, so this track-by-track analysis will resume on Monday.

Read my thoughts on “This Depression” after the jump….

I’ll admit, I feel a little bit of guilt for reviewing Wrecking Ball track-by-track.  The best albums are far more than the mere sum of their parts, especially where Bruce Springsteen is concerned, so before embarking on this project, I did sit down and listen to the entire album start to finish (and I’m not going to say how…).  I will have a full review up before the record hits shelves, but suffice it so say, Wrecking Ball is one of the Boss’ masterpieces, and a big part of that is how unified it is.  There isn’t a song out of place, it’s perfectly sequenced, and it tells a powerful emotional story from beginning to end.  Listening to it piece by piece doesn’t really do it justice. 

That fact is especially apparent on “This Depression.”  It’s a good song, but it’s not one that I feel most are going to single out for praise, and I don’t know how much individual rotation it will get on my iPod.  That being said, it’s an absolutely essential piece of the album’s thematic arc, and Wrecking Ball wouldn’t be the masterwork it is without the song. 

“Baby, I've been down, but never this down
I've been lost, but never this lost

This is my confession, I need your heart

In this depression, I need your heart”

Rather than tell a story or make a clear, literal point, “This Depression” expresses an emotional state, one of melancholy and loss, as evidenced by the sparse, vague lyrics.  It’s all about atmosphere, and the music itself says just as much, if not more, than the lyrics do; the instrumentation, primarily fueled by guitar and synthesizer, all blends together into one hypnotically sad landscape, with only the booming, omnipresent drums – suggesting the steady, rhythmic power of a heartbeat, perhaps – standing out.  There’s an electric guitar solo in the middle – again provided by Tom Morello – that sounds completely unlike anything ever heard on a Springsteen album; it stands as a verse unto itself, experimental and emotional, expressing more of the singer’s inner angst than the lyrics. 

By focusing squarely on emotions, “This Depression” is the beginning of a thematic transition for the album, moving away from the anger and frustration over the financial crisis to a more general, universal sense of despair and hopelessness, an underlying theme of the album’s second half.  The sadness could be related to economic woes – the title obviously contains a double meaning – but the goal here is to widen the album’s scope.  The first five tracks expressed one cause for ‘depression’ – hard economic times – but with this track, Springsteen invites listeners to contemplate any kind of sadness in their lives, and that grief, whatever it is, will be the focal point Springsteen’s lyrics and music connect with for the rest of the record.  I’ll elaborate on this in later articles, but the economic material is just a springboard for a much larger discussion of the human spirit, and “This Depression” is the track where Springsteen starts showing his hand.  He lays a lot of groundwork here that he will revisit across the rest of the album, and it’s only on repeat listens that one realizes the full meaning of Springsteen’s words, particularly in the last verse:

“And I've always been strong, but I've never felt so weak

And all my prayers have gone for nothing

I've been without love, but never forsaken

Now the morning sun, the morning sun is breaking”

The concept of forsaken prayers is the basis for the album’s highly spiritual endgame; the character in this song most likely returns for the ninth track, “Rocky Ground,” and maybe even the final two, depending on how you interpret their subtext.  The “morning sun” imagery is a direct callback to “Jack of All Trades.”  Finally, the song’s key recurring lyric – “I need your heart” – could be significant in any number of ways.  Is he referring to the necessity of a lover’s comfort in times of trouble?  If so, he’s foreshadowing Track 8, “You’ve Got It,” and explicitly spelling out the latter song’s purpose on the record (a lot of early listener’s have been confused by it, but we’ll get there on Tuesday).  It’s also entirely possible the “heart” he requires is that of a lost love, and that the ‘depression’ he feels comes from his or her passing.  Once you hear the rest of the album, and you see what a huge part death plays in the proceedings, you’ll see that this interpretation may be the correct one.
                                                                     
In any case, “This Depression” is one of the most important songs on the album, and illustrates how much Wrecking Ball is meant to be experienced as a whole.  It’s a good song on its own, but in context, heard as the sixth of eleven tracks, it’s absolutely magical. 

Come back MONDAY for my take on Track #7, “Wrecking Ball”

WRECKING BALL Reviews:

Track 6. “This Depression” - TODAY
Track 7. “Wrecking Ball” (2/27)
Track 8. “You’ve Got It” (2/28)
Track 9. “Rocky Ground” (2/29)
Track 10. “Land of Hope and Dreams (3/01)
Track 11. “We Are Alive” (3/02)

4 comments:

  1. I fell on this blog looking for some review of Wrecking Ball and I have to say that I found here some of the deeper and complete analisys of the songs. Your "first impressions" are the first thing that I read in the morning.
    Well done Jonathan.

    Luca (from Italy)

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  2. Love all your reviews! Spot on as usual!

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