23/11/2012 06:33 GMT | Updated 20/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Tougher Than the Rest: Is Springsteen's Greatest Work Still Ahead of Him?

By Peter Chianca author of Glory Days: Springsteen's Greatest Albums

Let's face it, it's one thing to sell out stadiums decades into your career, like the Rolling Stones are sure to do if they trot out their rumored 50th anniversary tour next year. But it's another thing to keep releasing actual, relevant new music. Remember that?

I'm talking about music that has something to say, that manages to further the themes of an artist's previous work without sounding like a retread of past glories, and that stirs commentary, debate and, if it's doing its job, at least a little condemnation. There are only a tiny handful of people doing that - Bob Dylan and Neil Young come to mind - but I'd argue that nobody is doing it with the consistency and drive of Bruce Springsteen.

The sound and fury that greeted this year's Wrecking Ball - from glowing reviews to venomous screeds, with seemingly every writer and blogger feeling the urge to weigh in - signaled a continued relevance that feels unprecedented. In short, Springsteen's level of output in recent years indicates that he's got plenty of juice left in his creative tank - to the point where his best work, at 63, may still be ahead of him.

Yes, I know you're probably thinking that's crazy talk - how could the man behind Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town have another masterpiece like those up his sleeve at this stage of his career? And while I won't give away the ending, I'll admit that in my book Glory Days: Springsteen's Greatest Albums, my pick for No. 1 doesn't involve a release from the last 20 years.

But I keep coming back to Wrecking Ball, an album that at its roots is about unfair income disparity, the mortgage crisis and the desperation that goes with being robbed of the opportunity to work, told in the sounds and rhythms of archaic musical styles while still sounding utterly of the now. It may not be his best album, at least partially because

Springsteen is no longer the obsessive detail freak he was in his 20s, and good for him. But it may be his most relevant for its time.

It reminds me of something Springsteen said about Barack Obama, the man he helped get reelected president earlier this month. He said the President "feels these days in his bones," but he could just as easily have been talking about himself, at any point in his career. From the beginning, Springsteen has showed an amazing empathy for what can happen to a man when the world bears down on him, and still, 40 years later, he clearly feels a responsibility to channel that empathy in a way that means something - something significant - to both him and his fans.

When an artist feels the stakes are so high, anything is possible - and whether Springsteen's next album is his greatest or not, you can bet that you'll be able to feel it in your bones. Just try saying that about a Rod Stewart record.