Friday, August 2, 2002

It's why they call him The Boss

With “The Rising” Springsteen flexes his songwriting muscle

August 2, 2002

With the release of "The Rising," Bruce Springsteen has cemented his place as one of America's most important and most treasured songwriters. It is an album perhaps only he could have written and an album America needed him to write.

Much of material on this poignant recording — Springsteen's first with the E Street Band in 18 years — was inspired by the events of 9/11. But rather than simply take us back to the rubble and carnage of lower Manhattan, Springsteen offers a more mournful and ultimately more sensitive approach. The songs are told in human terms and in thoughtful ways, and rather than flag-waving and anger, he focuses on the sadness and sense of loss within individual lives and homes and on the acts of subtle heroism that are now more inclined to be noticed in everyday life.

The record opens with the moody yet lifting "Lonesome Day," a tremendous track that talks of the need for fortitude and resiliency when dealing with heartache. Its burning guitars and gospel-like backing vocals help make it one of the album's most stirring numbers. "Into The Fire" sounds like a direct homage to the heroics New York's firefighters and police officers displayed on 9/11, while "Waitin' On A Sunny Day" talks of how, even during hard times, better times may still be on the horizon.

It is within songs such as "Nothing Man," however, that Springsteen strikes the deepest chords and paints the most human pictures. The gorgeous track tells the tale of an unassuming small town man who finds local notoriety as a result of his heroism. The character, however — forever changed by what he's experienced — is uninterested in such back-patting and feels frustrated at the quick return to normalcy within his community. The song, delivered with a soft sense of dignity and humility, is also one of the album's finest tracks.

With "Counting on a Miracle,"' Springsteen sings with sheer passion, and with "Empty Sky"' his creative brush paints the sorrowful picture of the loss of love through tragedy:

"I woke up this morning, I could barely breathe,
Just an empty impression in the bed, where 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."

Here, Springsteen again takes listeners away from the newscasts and wreckage of 9/11 and into the empty living rooms, the empty kitchen tables and empty hearts of the bereaved.

With the tribal, rhythmic and incredibly melodic "Worlds Apart" — clearly one of the best songs he's ever written — Springsteen expands the bounds of love even further. And with its Mid-eastern sounds and references, it could be interpreted as a love letter written by a soldier in combat to a woman back home.

"Where the distant oceans sing and rise to the plain,
In this dry and troubled country, your beauty remains
Down from the mountain roads, where the highway rolls to dark,
'Neath Allah's blessed rain, we remain worlds apart ...
We'll let blood build a bridge, over mountains draped in stars
I'll meet you on the ridge, between these worlds apart."

It is one of the album's most stunning moments.

The light, fun and funky "Mary's Place"' sounds as if it could have been included on Springsteen's first album, and "You're Missing" again visits the emotions of longing and emptiness that come with loss. The two tracks make for an interesting sequencing of numbers, but they do serve as a perfect segue into the album's next song and another of its hallmarks: "The Rising."

The song, an exhilarating and zesty plea for rebirth, rejuvenation and a heightened sense of spirit, could serve as an American anthem. For anyone who listens to it, it probably will.

The album closes, appropriately, with the prayerful "My City of Ruins."

Springsteen likely will pick up a load of Grammy awards next February for this alluring album, but that's probably not very important to him. With the release of "The Rising," he has, in a very real way, answered a call. There's a story, as told in the New York Times, that a few days after 9/11 an unintrusive fan approached Springsteen on the street and offered three simple words: "We need you."

Springsteen has answered, and though he was clearly inspired by everyday American heroes when he was writing this album, he also has — with sensitivity and empathy — reclaimed his own status as one.

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