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The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
Member Name: Jonny_Sleeze
The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
Date: 11/05/04, updated on 18/05/04 (249 review reads)
Advantages: Beefy, comforting rock from a legend
Disadvantages: Not that many, really...
Nobody can possibly hold anything against Bruce Springsteen. He's a good natured, socially conscious guy who, despite the ravages of fame and fortune, has never 'sold out' or succumbed to the temptations of product-endorsement. With The Rising, he shows how he's succesfully moved beyond that blue collar schtick which, let's be honest, wouldn't sound that convincing from a guy with as much bling as he's accumulated over the years; instead, we have a well-composed set of sensitive songs that hit all the right notes in the wake of September 11. Springsteen doesn't pretend to have a political manifesto; rather, he's interested in people and the way individuals are moved and affected by global affairs, nation, and loss.
Blurb for this album rightly points out that this is the first album he's done with the E-street band since 'Born in the USA', which is generally right; various members have guested on his albums and collaborated with him for the duration since. Nonetheless, a lot of people see this as a return to form, and it is really... whilst albums like 'Tunnel of Love' and 'Human Touch' explored the personal aspect of his songwriting, it took 9/11 to re-energise his passion for that rocksteady, big-band, outrospective, fist-in-the-air anthem stuff that he's famous for - Born In The USA, Born to Run etc. The Rising has that in spades, but in keeping with its solemn inspiration, also features a lot of low-key, downcast, more meditative efforts that make this a constantly listenable, 3-dimensional set of solid, suprisingly relevant songs.
Brendon O' Brien has been roped in for production duties, and this album is all the better for it. Obviously, Springsteen isn't getting any younger, and O' Brien
39;s loose, contemporary style (he's previously worked with Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine) helps keep this album sound fresh and modern, whilst still retaining that vital Asbury-park sound. I'm a big fan of his style because he lets the musicianship and energy shine through by recording the band in a live environment; anyone who's witnessed Springsteen live will know that the E-Street band shines in this setting. Max Weinberg's rock-solid drumming, Clarence Clemons' spectacular saxophone and Steve Van Sant's skilful, steady guitar are all captured in their warm, energetic element; not bad for a group of people pushing 60. With as many as 9 musicians playing on some songs, O' Brien does a great job of keeping everything together, so that the music never sounds over-busy or crowded, whilst still 'meshing' well.
'Lonesome Day' is the sturdy, substantial mid-tempo rocker that provides the staple of any Bruce Springsteen diet. An unyieldingly firm rhythm carries along an uplifting string section and finishes with the refrain 'it's alright, it's alright...' until the fadeout. It's not rocket science, but it works perfectly; it's at once familiar and new, retro and current, re-assuring and yet it looks to the future.
'Into The Fire' is the most overtly-9/11 inspired song, and, in my opinion, borders on being preachy. Most of the time Springsteen manages to be spiritual without resorting to sermonising, but the lyrics here - "May your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope" etc, or "I need your kiss/but love and duty called you someplace higher" - are bit too saccharine for me. I'm not heartless, but some aspects of the reaction to 9/11 seemed to be so gushing and
that they missed the horror and tragedy of that day somewhat. Just my opinion. Nonetheless, it's a fitting ode to the bravery of the firefighters; the title referring to their ascent up the stairs into the blaze.
Next up is the optimistic 'Waitin' On A Sunny Day', a great sunshine singalong; "It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky/Must have been a tear from your eye/Everything'll be okay". I saw him live last summer and this was one of the highlights; all those wholesome Springsteeny ingredients combining to make a great song. 'Nothing Man' is more low key, a touching ode to how the world can go through tumultous change whilst still seeming like the same place. It has that All-American spin that The Boss nails so often; "Around here, everybody acts the same/Around here, everybody acts like nothing's changed/Friday night, the club meets at Al's Barbecue/The sky's still, the same unbelievable blue".
'Counting on a Miracle' is another rigid rocker in the same vein as 'Lonesome Day'. It's followed by 'Empty Sky', a slow but steady pounder that builds up into a sun-drenched chorus. It's a very moving song, and its clap-along rock style belies some very touching lyrics; "I woke up this morning/I could barely breathe/Just an empty impression/In the bed there you used to be/I want a kiss from your lips/I want an eye for an eye/I woke up this morning to an empty sky". Springsteen is renowned for singing in character, and here he uses that technique to convey the sentiment of many Americans who lost relatives and friends in the attacks. It's songs like 'Empty Sky' that prove his relevance not just to the U.S, but to the wor
ld at large
'Worlds Apart' is the shiny gem that lights up the middle of this album, the west and east colliding in music and lyrics then crashing together in an almighty continent-sized epic. It's a tale of forbidden love between an 'infidel' and a Muslim, wrapped in some truly dramatic imagery; "We'll let blood build a bridge, over mountains draped in stars/I'll meet you on the ridge, between these worlds apart". Asif Ali Khan's vocal group provides some soaring Arabic melody, and the song finishes with an explosive guitar solo.
Next, there's the dark-ish rocker 'Further On Up The Road', followed by 'The Fuse', a fantastic song that explores sensuality and longing against a backdrop of tragedy with unfailing grace. The old-school Asbury-park feelgood of 'Mary's Place' represents another optimistic highpoint, with good ol' lyrics about... having a party.
Things take a more solemn turn with 'You're Missing', the song that most explicitly deals with the dull ache of emptiness following the loss of a loved one. A beautiful, yearning guitar line is embellished with gentle strings as the melody unfolds through a dignified, intelligent tribute. From here, 'The Rising' is another upbeat highlight on a par with the best of 'Born In The USA' in terms of crowd-stirring, arms-in-the-air, fist-punching audience participation.
'Paradise' is the darkest and most still moment on the album; the melody is simple but compelling, as an industrial pulse fades in and out underneath a barely perceptible acoustic guitar. The first verse is sung from the perspective of a suicide bomber just before the explosion, and crystallises Springsteen's ability to grapple with topics that
no-one else dare
s touch amd still come out with an intelligent, non-judgemental slant on his subject matter. From there, he explores nihilism and despair with profound resignation; "I search for the peace in your eyes, but they're as empty as paradise."
'My City Of Ruins' wraps things up, with a look at urban decay and social disintegration that resonates with new meaning when you consider that this was actually written before September 11. Springsteen implores his hometown to "rise up" from its state of despair, and a genuinely spirit-lifting effect is forged from the sombre subject matter.
Bruce is backed up by the stalwart E-Street Band for this one, the group that carried him through to 'Born in the USA' in 1985. They all pack about 30 years of experience, and so this album is performed with all the skill and aplomb you'd expect from such well travelled handful. Crucially, they never come close to overly-technical fiddlery or lengthy guitar solos/ego trips, and always maintain their sense of fun whilst serving as far more than a mere backing band; while they stay true to Springsteen's song visions, they expertly embellish every track with tasteful piano flourishes, searing saxaphone and guitar solos that actually work, because the guitarists aren't afraid to hear the space inbetween the notes. Frequently, Clarence Clemons' stadium-sized saxophone carries sections of the songs and lifts them into far more spectacular territory.
Springsteen himself sings with both confidence and sensitivity, and the 'return-to-form' aspect of this album is reflected in his vocal. He manages to be bombastic without being macho, emotional but not undignified, clever but never smart-ass.
'The Rising' is a bit of a
masterpiece that could only really have been made by Bruce Springsteen; whilst the efforts of Neil Young and others to respond to September 11 have sounded jingoistic, militaristic and distasteful, 'The Rising' rises (see, it's a pun) high above the rest with dignity and soul. It never sounds nationalistic or vengeful, and never preaches a course of action or state of mind; instead, it affirms Springsteen's skill and magic and will probably sound as ageless as 'Born to Run' does now in 30 years time.