Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bruce Springsteen: "We Take Care Of Our Own"

So, yeah, this song is trying to be a "Born In The U.S.A." for the New Depression, an ironic anthem whose gung-ho chorus will tattoo it onto the biceps of enough people that maybe its bitter verses will seep into the blood of a few, just maybe enough to make a difference.  Probably not - I don't have the kind of faith and hope in the people that Bruce has (we'll get to that) - but you can't fault a guy for trying.

In 2012 what it meant for Bruce to make this kind of record is very different from what it meant in 1984.  Then it was all testosterone:  grinding guitars and organ, an arrangement so stark that when I first heard it on the radio (in real time, and on WHFS no less) I couldn't figure out what this strangeness was (it's hard to realize now just how radically stripped down that record was, since it's become so ubiquitous).

Now it's something different.  It's a lush, Phil Spectorish pop record - as detailed and chock-full-o'-nuts as Born To Run was.  Layers of guitars, synths, voices, rhythms.  Rhythms and synths:  if it recalls anything from the Born In The U.S.A. album it's "Dancing In The Dark."  Like that song it's all breathy urgency, rather than anthemic declaiming.  But there's just enough anthem in the arrangement - the boot-camp backing vocals and handclap accents, the glockenfuckenspiel - to make it a public song rather than a private one.

All that popcraft is necessary this time, because Bruce has elected to undersing the lyrics - wisely so.  The disconnect between verses and chorus is even more pronounced than it was on "Born In The U.S.A."  There you could kind of imagine the whole lyric being sung by the same narrator - a guy desperate about the straits he's in, and struggling to balance his knowledge that his country is responsible for them with the fact that he loves, feels he should love, that country anyway - and all of it busting out in a big strangulated hernia of a cry.

In "We Take Care Of Our Own" it's next to impossible to relate the verses to the chorus in any way other than bitter, obscene irony.  It's as if they're describing two completely alternate universes:  one in which the citizens of the US take care of each other in good times and bad, and one in which those same citizens say to each other, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on."  There's no reconciling the two:  they can't coexist.  One of them doesn't exist.  And Bruce knows it.  So he sings the chorus, not anthemically, but wistfully, almost in a whisper, weeping.  And that makes the sweet pop of the arrangement just unbearably poignant.  It goes down easy - it's a real earworm - but there's nothing easy about being down there with it.