Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Rising to the Occasion
Springsteen: The Rising
Posted: August 11,
Kevin Forest Moreau
How, exactly, does one judge The Rising?
By now, unless you've spent the last couple of months in a cave in Tora
Bora, you know that Bruce Springsteen's new record, his first with his
near-legendary E Street Band since Born in the U.S.A., is heavily
influenced by the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. So how do we address
it? To judge it simply for what it is, on its most basic level -- a rock and
roll record -- seems somehow callous, or an avoidance of larger issues: What,
exactly, is the appropriate musical way to commemorate or comment upon such
events? Does such an attempt smack of exploitation? Does a rock and roll
song, or even a handful of really good ones, risk trivializing its subject
Ultimately, of course, The Rising is just that -- a rock record
-- and given rock's long and impressive history of social and political
commentary, and Springsteen's own history as perhaps rock's most versatile
arena-rocker and blue-collar troubadour, its attempt to address the events
of Sept. 11 makes a certain rational and emotional sense.
And to his credit, Springsteen rises to the task admirably. As unsettling
as the idea of a Sept. 11 album feels, The Rising proves a stirring
document of loss, faith and redemption, and a pretty damn good rock and roll
record to boot. Springsteen had decided to reunite and record with the E
Street Band before Sept. 11 happened, but in hindsight his decision to
address these events in the context of the band's rousingly populist
raucousness seems like a stroke of genius. Had he elected to go the subdued,
mourning route of a bleak folk album a la Nebraska or The Ghost of
Tom Joad, Springsteen likely would have failed to provide his audience
with what they wanted and needed from him: a declaration of defiant hope and
the determination to carry on in the face of great sadness and loss. As
bands like U2 and performers like Springsteen himself have proven over the
years, the broad brush-strokes of arena-friendly rock prove a fertile and
effective background for the Big Issues. Only through the straight-ahead
bashing of Max Weinberg, the slash-and burn guitar heroics of Little Steven
Van Zant and Nils Lofgren and yes, even the exuberant sax of Clarence
Clemmons could Springsteen have hoped to scrap his way through the emotional
complexity of the attacks to a place of acceptance, defiance and
Which is not to say that The Rising simply bangs its way through
the subject matter that informs most of its songs. Indeed, traces of
Springsteen's grass-roots folk persona shine through in the quieter numbers
that nicely, and necessarily, offset the brasher numbers. The most potent
example comes in "Into the Fire," the first song Springsteen wrote after the
11th and the one song that most directly addresses its aftermath. It starts
slowly, plaintively, rooted in Springsteen's blues-inflected delivery and
Lofgren's understated dobro, moving solemnly through its unabashedly
stirring convocation ("May your strength give us strength/ may your faith
give us faith/ may your hope give us hope/ may your love give us love")
before the hammer drops and the E Street Band grafts muscle and sinew on the
song's skeletal frame. Guests Soozie Tyrell and Jane Scarpantoni flesh out
the arrangement with effective violin and cello work, respectively, and the
whole gestalt turns the chorus's incantation into a rousing gospel chant.
It's admittedly a blatant James Cameron-esque for the heartstrings, but it
works; only the kind of people who kick dogs and steal candy from babies
could find fault with the song's visceral uplift.
"Into the Fire" and its cousins -- the forlorn ballad "Nothing Man" (about
a surviving rescue worker's guilt and despair), the wistful "You're Missing"
and the brief and evocative "Empty Sky" -- lay the album's foundations of
grief and loss. But it's Springsteen's more overt rockers, most of them cast
in a musical mold most similar to latter albums like Born in the U.S.A.
and Human Touch, that form The Rising's emotional core,
alchemically transmuting pain, loneliness and despair into a firm resolve to
find salvation in the face of the unspeakable. "The Rising," the album's
declaration of purpose, exhorts its listeners to "come on up to the rising,"
an invitation to rise above, to rebuild, to move upwards in contrast to the
tumbling of the Twin Towers and the plummeting of airplanes; its "li li li"
refrain a stubborn sub-vocal reclaiming of an era when such wordless
singalongs didn't seem as frivolous.
Likewise, "Lonesome Day" marries a pensive rumination of loneliness with
a buoyant arrangement, with bright strings filling in the parts where the
discomfiting keyboards of, say, "Glory Days" might have gone. And "Worlds
Apart," another highlight, achieves the seemingly impossible feat of
recasting guitar-rocker Springsteen as a world-beat integrationist along the
lines of Sting or Peter Gabriel, as it transforms the Islamic chanting of
guest Asif Ali Khan and his group into a stadium-strength singalong of
Granted, not everything about The Rising is effective or
affecting. Rocking numbers like "Further On (Up the Road)", "Countin' On A
Miracle" and "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," while serviceable, offer distracting
musical and lyrical clichés; on Lucky Town, Born in the U.S.A.
or even The River, they'd be less glaring, but here, for all their
simple charm and thematic cohesion, they stick out like an Al-Qaeda Mullah
at a strip club. "Mary's Place," a rather blatant throwback to the
horn-drenched glories of the Born to Run era, seems out of place for
all its breezy enthusiasm. And "My City of Ruins" -- written long before
September 11, about Springsteen's dilapidated stomping grounds of Asbury
Park, New Jersey -- ends things on an elegiac note that's wholly appropriate,
complete with another gospel-tinged singalong, but one that -- especially
paired with the spare "Paradise" -- drains off the fiery affirmation of "The
Rising." It's hard to think of another way The Rising could have
ended, but the sense of mourning, while again completely appropriate,
nonetheless feels disappointing.
Still, The Rising is a vibrant and moving work. None of the songs
-- even "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" or the out-of-place "Let's Be Friends (Skin
to Skin)" -- are filler. And while the album's decidedly "modern-day Bruce"
sound -- which is to say, more Born in the U.S.A. than Born to Run
-- may disappoint some fans, it's not without its musical surprises.
But it's just not that easy anymore. The Rising does almost
everything right, sidestepping the easy but wrongheaded jingoism of Toby
Keith's "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American)" in favor
of recurring images and themes meant to inspire rather than inflame. Indeed,
it does just about everything you could reasonably expect of it, especially
given how relatively soon it follows on the heels of Sept. 11. But it's hard
to call it an absolute triumph. Because even though some of its songs were
written before Sept. 11, and not every song addresses those events directly,
it can't help but be regarded as "Bruce Springsteen's Sept. 11 record." And
the very notion of such a record still feels wrong, somehow. Yes, we've
always had songs and even movies made of pivotal and tragic events in our
history, from "Ohio" to Pearl Harbor and Platoon. Still,
through no fault of its own -- by virtue of our tendency to regard even the
most stirring pop music as something trivial, and despite its admirable
spirit of ascendancy -- The Rising feels like a contribution to the
marginalization, even trivialization, of the events it addresses.
Could its very existence as a document about post-Sept. 11 America
ultimately end up diminishing the importance of that day? As the memory of
the day fades and more and more performers, many far less talented and
intelligent as Springsteen, start churning out Sept. 11 albums the way
country stars make obligatory Christmas records for their conservative Bible
Belt fan-base, will we begin to forget the scale, the sheer size and scope,
of those events? To mistakenly begin to regard Sept. 11 as something we can
easily fit into a box, or a CD case? The Rising is a compelling disc,
it's much needed, and it deals with Sept. 11 with a grace we can hardly have
imagined or expect from our pop stars. But in the end that day just isn't
something a song or an album or a movie can ever hope to do even some small
justice to. And while it may never do so, if The Rising ultimately
helps lull us into forgetting that fact, it will have to be considered a
smartly-executed, masterfully accomplished, well-intentioned failure.
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.