Wrecking Ball (Bruce Springsteen)
Producer: Ron Aniello & Bruce Springsteen
Released: March 5, 2012
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “We Take Care of Our Own” & “This Depression”
Diverging from the string of excellent albums Springsteen has been releasing steadily since his return from a seven year hiatus (with 2002’s The Rising), Wrecking Ball comes across as a bunt where his past several albums have felt more like full-force swings aimed at the fences. It’s not so much that this is a bad album: it is, just as disappointingly, a mediocre album. Most songs fall into one beat from the opening bars on, often establishing a chorus line that becomes the repetitive chant throughout. There are standouts, such as the album opener “We Take Care of Our Own” and “This Depression.” And, of course, the tone and textures of Springsteen’s Americana sound are impressively rendered, incorporating acoustic and electric elements intermittently, as well as choir-style background singers (see: “Shackled and Drawn” to begin with) and other cultural textures (see: Death to My Hometown, itself perhaps a frown of an update to his 1985 hit “My Hometown,” then the seventh top ten hit off Born in the U.S.A.). Still, these elements are not enough to lift Wrecking Ball into any real sense of artistic accomplishment, nor does it live up to the rock music energy and promise of the Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band performance of “We Take Care of Our Own” at the Grammys earlier this year.
Port of Morrow (The Shins)
Producer: Greg Kurstin & James Mercer
Released: March 20, 2012
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Top Two Tracks: “Simple Song” & “No Way Down”
Fresh off his 2010 collaboration with Danger Mouse as the indie duo Broken Bells, James Mercer returns with the Shins to deliver an alt pop/rock punch in Port of Morrow. From the fast-paced opener “Rifle’s Spiral” to the lead single and album standout “Simple Song,” through three more excellent though more understated tracks, to the second standout “No Way Down” (which, unlike “Simple Song,” requires little warm-up to get up to full speed), and up to the subsequent ballad “For A Fool” and then the quirky, sonically unique “Fall of ’82,” finally arriving at the penultimate “40 Mark Strasse,” there isn’t a clunker in the set. The final track feels, like so many title tracks throughout history, like a bonus track or a tack-on rather than a full member of the record. The Shins are certainly guilty of finding a sound and falling into it, destined to draw claims of “the Shins are a good song,” and yet when you like the sound – as I certainly do – it’s difficult to criticize the nine tracks of gorgeous, bright, modern alt rock music that await you on Port of Morrow.