Tuesday, February 28, 2012

First Impressions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” – Track #8 – “You’ve Got It” - Listen online today at the Wall Street Journal!

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 the eighth – and so far, most divisive – track, “You’ve Got It,” streaming for free all day today at the Wall Street Journal.  I love the song, but many are wondering how it belongs on this specific album.  Never fear - I have an incessantly detailed analytical response to explain it all!!!

Read my thoughts on “You’ve Got It” after the jump….

Hanging out on Bruce Springsteen forums – like the Backstreets Ticket Exchange (BTX) – over the last week (i.e. ever since Wrecking Ball leaked online – shh….), two things have become clear to me: 1) Most fans (not all, because this is the internet) are responding very positively to the new album, and 2) Even the most ardent supporters of this record are befuddled by today’s track, “You’ve Got It.”  I’ve seen very few scathing criticisms of the song itself, but given what a tightly constructed album Wrecking Ball is – with each song not only sharing thematic connections, but also moving an emotional story forward one musical scene at a time – most listeners don’t understand how “You’ve Got It,” a jaunty little love ditty, fits with its companions.

Fair enough.  “You’ve Got It” is a no-frills love-song, one of the only ones Bruce has ever written (historically, his “love” songs have always been laced with irony, doubt, and self-reflection, none of which you’ll find here).  It says nothing about economic despair, it isn’t angry, it isn’t complicated, and it’s not layered with subtext and double meaning like “Wrecking Ball” or the final three tracks on the album.  It’s just a happy, laid back romantic ode with a pleasant, catchy tune. 

“No one ever found it, ain't no school ever taught it

No one ever made it, ain't no one ever bought it

Baby you've got it, baby you've got it

Come on and give it to me”

At first glance, no, it doesn’t seem to be a tonal or thematic match for the rest of Wrecking Ball.  I, however, would argue that is absolutely not the case.  If you look a little deeper, you’ll find that “You’ve Got It” doesn’t just match Springsteen’s thematic ambitions, but that it’s an essential piece of the whole. 

In my full review of Wrecking Ball – likely coming this weekend – I explain that I don’t interpret the album as a scathing story of economic despair, but as a thoughtful, layered, and nuanced ode to the strength of the human spirit.  I discussed this a little bit in yesterday’s review of the title track, which is where Springsteen fully shifts focus from the blue-collar material to a larger discussion about souls in peril.  But even in songs like “Shackled and Drawn” or “Jack of All Trades,” where the focus seems to be on contemporary financial woes, Springsteen is really singing about human spirits put under pressure.  The final three tracks, which we haven’t reached yet, dig deeper than ever into these themes, using religious imagery and spiritual concepts to suggest the scope and complexity of the soul’s journey.   

So here’s the thing: if Springsteen’s focus is indeed the human spirit, then he needs at least one song devoted to illustrating the album’s core subject, right?  That’s where “You’ve Got It” comes in.  Yesterday, I wrote that Springsteen argues “that there is some ethereal component of the human condition that gives us strength…”  Look at the second verse of “You’ve Got It” and tell me you don’t see him elucidating this same theme:

“Ain't no one can break it, there ain't no one can steal it

Ain't no one can fake it, you just know it when you feel it

Baby you've got it, baby you've got it

Come on and give it to me”

See?  He’s singing about the soul.  It can’t be broken, it can’t be stolen, it can’t be faked, and we only know it exists because we sense it in others.  This is the “ethereal component of the human condition” that I mentioned above.  On the surface, “You’ve Got It” is a man singing about why he loves a woman, but everything he says can be taken in a broader context.  He loves her for reasons he cannot understand, can’t summarize what “it” is that makes her so special, but whatever “it” is, he knows she’s got it, and that’s all that matters.  This is also what Springsteen sees as the fundamental virtue of the human spirit.  Why does it endure and persevere the way it does?  Nobody knows, but we may recognize its power, and that’s what’s important.  That’s why Springsteen has devoted an entire album to exploring the intricacies and life path of the soul. 

The concept of the spirit’s strength was first made explicit in the previous track, “Wrecking Ball,” so it’s only natural that “You’ve Got It” follows on that piece’s heels, elaborating on the album’s most important theme before heading into the final, highly unified set of songs. 

But the sequencing of “You’ve Got It” fulfills another, possibly even more important function: it decompresses the listener after the incredible emotional climax of “Wrecking Ball.”  As I explained yesterday, that song absolutely floored me; the first time I listened to the album, “Wrecking Ball” actually got me crying.  Suffice it to say, I was a mess by the time the track ended, and if Springsteen jumped immediately into “Rocky Ground,” the ninth track, it may have been too much for me.  “You’ve Got It,” however, is the perfect way to calm down after “Ball.”  With its slow, pleasant, three-chord blues structure, it’s an easy, fun listen, and though I believe it has deeper meaning, it isn’t emotionally demanding in the slightest.  The subsequent one-two punch of “Rocky Ground” and “Land of Hope and Dreams” is tremendously powerful, but it demands a clear heart and an open mind, and by the time “You’ve Got It” ends, we, as listeners, are ready to confront Springsteen’s next challenge.  To my ears, that’s very smart album sequencing, and I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.

And what gets lost in all the talk about the track’s themes and place on the record is that “You’ve Got It” is actually one hell of a good song.  It’s not necessarily on par with the best this album has to offer, but I like the tune, I love the laid-black blues atmosphere, I’m hugely impressed by Springsteen’s vocal performance, and I absolutely adore the way the song builds from start to finish.  It opens with nothing more than acoustic guitar and vocals, but Bruce soon adds piano, drums, electric guitar, handclaps and horns, all of it coming together in one of the most engaging instrumental arrangements on the record.  I like the song more and more each time I hear it, and it’s one of the album’s only songs that can be fully enjoyed on its own.  I can actually imagine this one being really fun live; in particular, the electric guitar part is perfect for Steve VanZandt – it’s totally his style – and there’s plenty of opportunity for the touring horn section to shine.

So if you’re listening to Wrecking Ball and “You’ve Got It” strikes you as out of place or disappointing, give it a second listen.  Think about what I’ve written here today.  If you really give it a shot, chances are you’ll fall in love with the song. 

And before you start bombarding me with comments……yes, I am also aware that the “it” of the title could (and probably does) refer to female genitalia, and that much of the song turns into sexually explicit double entendre if you look at it that way.  I simply happen to prefer my more scholarly interpretation.  So there. 

Come back tomorrow for my take on Track #9, “Rocky Ground”


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

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