Bruce Springsteen

Record Review

Bruce Springsteen

The Rising (Columbia)

Heartbreak. Hope. Release. As expected, when Bruce Springsteen heads into the studio with the E Street Band for the first time in 15 years, each of these elements are in place. Of course, that's been the case for Springsteen & Co. ever since they revved their engines on 1975's Born to Run. Yet there's more here than a simple reunion: In case you missed it, The Rising was recorded in response to 9/11. Unless you're convinced, however, that watching the Twin Towers fall transformed all Americans into honorary New Yorkers, it's unclear what impact this will have on your appreciation of the disc. On first blush, despite Springsteen's distinct voice and the occasional moan of Clarence Clemons' saxophone, there's something disturbingly generic about the proceedings. That sense of disappointment doesn't linger, but lyrically, Springsteen walks a fine line on this outing, filling songs with descriptive if somewhat pedestrian tidbits. It's telling that one of the album's most evocative tunes, "My City of Ruins," was first written not as a love song to the Big Apple, but as a paean to Asbury Park, NJ. In turn, songs that deal with 9/11 directly, such as "You're Missing" or "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," threaten to reduce national tragedy into a rock star's meditation on loss and heartbreak. As the album plays, fortunately, Springsteen reaches for higher ground. The gospel-tinged choruses led by Patti Scialfa and Danny Federici's church-like organ remind us of the solemnity of what's being commemorated. Up-tempo cuts "Countin' on a Miracle" and the nostalgic rave-up "Mary's Place" help break the catatonia of too much sadness. There are surprises, too: "Worlds Apart," featuring Pakistani singer Asif Ali Khan, may be the most adventurous song Springsteen has written for the E Street Band. "May the living let us in, before the dead tear us apart," sing-shouts Springsteen over a wash of guitars and a swirl of Middle Eastern chants, coaxing the listener out of the darkness. Ultimately, when the Boss commands "Come on, rise up!" who are we to resist? (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band play the Frank Erwin Center, Nov. 6.)

***

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