First Listen: Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball, Theatre Marigny, Paris

The Boss still fired up by demolition of American dream

There are usually few modern realisations of Babel to compare with the international showbiz press conference, but thanks to the English language's hegemony over rock'n'roll, even this playback premiere held in a theatre just off the Champs-Élysées proceeded with impressive fluency.

Bruce Springsteen himself was in attendance and after an ear-splitting playback of his forthcoming album Wrecking Ball, he fielded questions from the host, Antoine De Caunes, and the audience.

The album itself sounds marvellous, an impassioned mix of Springsteen's signature bombast spiced with elements of muscular folk-rock, Irish rebel music and gospel music that Springsteen explains is the inevitable result of "being completely brainwashed by Catholicism in my formative years", adding with a chuckle: "It's given me a very active spiritual life – and made it very difficult for me sexually!"

The song "Wrecking Ball" refers to the demolition of Giants Stadium in New Jersey, which offered Springsteen a neat metaphor for the destruction of human values that he believes afflicts America today. "There was no accountability for years – people were losing their homes, yet nobody went to jail," he says. "Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no push-back to what was basic theft that struck at the heart of what America was about, the American sense of history and community. My work... is about judging the distance between American reality and the American Dream." Thus Wrecking Ball made a good title for an album that picks away relentlessly at the lack of equality in America.

The opening track, "We Take Care Of Our Own", is the "Born In The USA" of its era, a big, blustery anthem whose seemingly patriotic title conceals a highly critical tirade in which it's made clear that the US has failed to take care of its own. In "Easy Money", a disillusioned loser sets out to follow the bankers' example and turn to crime as a means of getting money. And in "This Depression", the album's pervasive sense of reproach and betrayal finds perhaps its most moving expression of the emotional, as well as economic, cost of the recession.

"The Bush years were so horrific, such a blatant disaster, that you couldn't just sit around and watch – if you had any cachet, you had to cash it in." Hence the undertow of anger that continues to fire Springsteen's conscience on what is undoubtedly his most powerful album this century. "You've got to be an honest broker with your fans," he says. "They're paying for something that can't be bought – it can only be manifested and shared."

Adele leads an LP comeback

Reports of the death of the album, it turns out, have been greatly exaggerated. Digital sales of LPs, led by Adele's 21, soared by more than 40 per cent in Britain last year. Other strong performers in 2011 included Michael Bublé's Christmas and Doo-Wops & Hooligans by Bruno Mars, as sales of downloaded albums rose to £117.8m, up from £82.2m a year earlier, according to industry body the BPI.

Geoff Taylor, its chief executive, said: "Listeners are increasingly moving from singles to albums. An album creates a deeper connection to the artist." Sales of download singles also rose by 11 per cent to £120.5m.

Nick Clark

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