While Bruce has never had the level of hubris of, say, Bono, he did still mean something to the people of New York who grew up on his music, and likely only enjoyed a handful of songs he put out in the ‘90s. Now it was a new century and the world had changed, and as he’d already put the E Street Band back together for a tour following Tracks (documented on the obligatory live album and DVD), it was time to rock out again.
The songs on The Rising resonate with the multitude of emotions following 9/11, and work best when they use the E Street Band, which now included both Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, and of course Patti Scialfa. Also prominent is violinist Soozie Tyrell, and because it’s a Brendan O’Brien production, it’s not so much live-sounding as it is decorated.
The first six songs are all solid, one after another, well paced and contrasted. The harpsichord and strings at the start of “Lonesome Day” are a red herring, as it soon turns into exactly what the guy on the shore wanted. It takes a lot of balls to put a song called “Nothing Man” on an album produced by the guy who worked with Pearl Jam, but he pulls it off. “Into The Fire” and “Empty Sky” seem overtly related to current events, but not blatantly, while “Countin’ On A Miracle” and “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” are just the type of apostrophed rockers that fill stadiums. You have to listen for Clarence Clemons, but he’s in there, just not blasting over every fade.
The wheels come off 25 minutes in, on track 7. “Worlds Apart” has a melody and chord structure right out of his late ‘70s songbook, but we can handle only so much Middle Eastern effects and choirs when Sting uses them, and they sound just out of place here. Even worse is “Let’s Be Friends (Skin To Skin)”, heavy on hip-hop loops and modern R&B. “Further On (Up The Road)” is ordinary rock by numbers and “The Fuse” is little more than a spruced-up demo.
Things do get back on track on “Mary’s Place”, with another red herring of a Mellencamp intro; while it’s about twice as long as it should be, the song’s “let’s have a party” sentiment provides the same relief as similar songs on The River, needed here more than ever. “You’re Missing” is moving but not mawkish, while the title track still stirs chills and thrills, even without delving into the lyrics. “Paradise” is a dour detour into Ghost Of Tom Joad territory. And finally, “My City Of Ruins”, completed before the attacks but a fitting end, borrows liberally from Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”, but most people will think of “The Weight”.
Bruce has always written about struggle, hope, despair, and persevering despite it all, so even outside of the context of the times, The Rising for the most part succeeds. Take out the chunk of misses in the middle and tighten a few of the fades—the songs are all longer than they need be anyway—and it would rank with his best. It was still his best album in 15 years.
Bruce Springsteen The Rising (2002)—3½