Springsteen Rants, Cohen Growls, Lana Del Rey Faces Tigers: CDs

The cover of "Wrecking Ball," the 17th studio album by Bruce Springsteen. The CD was released on March 6, 2012. The first single, "We Take Care of Our Own," was released in January, 2012. Source: Columbia Records via Bloomberg

Bruce Springsteen has released another unofficial national anthem, this one for our times.

His new song builds up to a chorus, “wherever this flag is flown,” and the repeated title “We Take Care of Our Own.”

Like the much-misunderstood “Born in the U.S.A.” before it, this isn’t unthinking patriotism. The words can be taken as a positive or a negative comment on the American dream. You can interpret it as either the U.S. looks after its citizens wherever the star-spangled banner flies or that the government and American families care for their loved ones only.

Springsteen’s career has a bedrock of blue-collar angst, along with all those tales about horsepower and elusive babes. He can’t resist a politically charged rant: “Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free? Where’s the spirit that’ll reign over me?”

The Boss, at 62, doesn’t have any worries about losing his well-paid job. Still, if you can stand the slogans, here we have a song as timely as “The Rising,” after 9/11, or “Working on a Dream,” full of optimism over Obama.

“Wrecking Ball,” a number familiar to those who follow his concerts, hammers the theme: “Hard times come, hard times go ... just to come again.” This is the title track of an album due in March and said by its author to be his most outspoken.

The driving rock sound has new textures, though it is essentially unchanged for decades -- apart from the sad loss of sax player Clarence Clemons, who died last June.

The band was been in tight form and the result will please fans. If anyone is entitled to mimic Springsteen, it’s the man himself. He does it so well.

Rating: ****.

Leonard Cohen has been in London to showcase songs off “Old Ideas,” set for release on Jan. 31. As the title suggests, the songwriter is delivering his own state-of-the-world report from the perspective of a 77-year-old.

Critics had been expecting good things -- and the new material is even better than hoped.

“I’ve got no future, I know my days are few,” Cohen growls. “I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too.” That’s a sample from “The Darkness,” and there are plenty more couplets as sharp as Cohen’s double-breasted suits.

Rating: *****.

Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” single is worth hearing too. It’s the title song of her album, also out on Jan. 31. (It started to leak online late yesterday.)

I’ve been playing her three-track radio promo CD for weeks. You can get an idea of what it’s like by going to her website, which has the video for the song and its haunting predecessor “Video Games.”

I love the video, with its star sitting on a heavenly throne flanked by yawning tigers. There’s a flashback sequence of a wild ride to a car-crash inferno with her tattooed lover more interested in Del Rey’s lips than staying on the road.

Del Rey recently was panned on Twitter for her awkward performance on “Saturday Night Live.” Someone wrote me to ask, “Is she a savior or shamster?”

I don’t think it’s an “either-or.” Del Rey has moved on from a scruffy image under her real name Elizabeth Grant, lowered her voice and now comes across as an eerie mix of Nancy Sinatra and Tori Amos.

She has the quirkiness of Regina Spektor and Alanis Morissette. The lyrics are adventurous and the conventional lush strings put her at the commercial end of the spectrum. Del Rey just needs to outgrow the hype fast if she’s to have a long career.

Rating: ***½.

Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Mexican duo who have been wowing audiences with their superfast acoustic-guitar work, are back with “Area 52.” The CD adds a backing band with Cuban spice to their 12-string thrashes and it’s a fine introduction to the pair.

Rating: ***.

What the Stars Mean:
*****      Exceptional
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

All the singles are out now, along with Rodrigo y Gabriela’s CD, which is on ATO Records. Del Rey’s album is released by Interscope and Cohen’s by Columbia on Jan. 31. Springsteen’s album on Columbia follows on March 6.

Information: http://www.brucespringsteen.net, http://www.lanadelrey.com, http://www.leonardcohen.com and http://www.rodgab.com/

Single download fees vary across services. The albums are priced from about $12 in the U.S. and 9 pounds in the U.K. Release dates are for the U.S.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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