Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Though Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band reunited for a triumphant tour in 1999 and 2000, the shows sometimes seemed like an oldies revue, due to the dearth of new material that they offered. Springsteen was still electrifying on stage, yet it almost seemed like he'd lost his desire as a songwriter.
But with Sept. 11 as a thematic backdrop, the 52-year-old Springsteen has found his voice again on The Rising. It's his first full set of new studio songs with The E Street Band in 15 years, and really the first time the band has played a significant role on one of his new studio albums since 1984's Born in the U.S.A.
While artists ranging from Paul McCartney and Neil Young to Alan Jackson and Charlie Daniels have written about Sept. 11, Springsteen weaves wonder on this disc with his gift for subtle expression. The tragedy is played out more in the lives left behind than the events themselves, and the 15 songs are filled with reflections of pain and loss, faith and retribution, and questions about our place in the world. But ultimately, there's a powerful sense of spiritual awakening and strength that emerges, as resolute as the album title itself.
There are several songs here that are as good as anything Springsteen has ever written, especially ?Paradise,? a haunting ballad that begins with images of a school-aged suicide bomber:
?Where the river runs to black/I take the schoolbooks from your pack/Plastics, wire and your kiss/The breath of eternity on your lips/In the crowded marketplace/I drift from face to face/I hold my breath and close my eyes...and I wait for paradise.?
It's chilling, as are tracks like ?You're Missing,? written from the vantage point of a family suddenly without a father, and the set-closing ?My City of Ruins,? an older Springsteen song of destruction and survival, which somehow seems like it was destined for a post 9/11 world.
Producer Brendan O'Brien, who's worked with Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine among others, gives the disc a host of refreshing textures, and The E Street Band complements Springsteen in typically superb fashion. They also provide a handful of distinctive retro moments that should bring a smile to long-time fans, especially during the bristling rocker ?Further On Up the Road? and the party-flavored ?Mary's Place.?
There are a few fleeting moments of mundane rock, with ?The Fuse,? and ?Countin' On a Miracle? sounding particularly pedestrian compared to a lot of the rest of The Rising. But overall, this is Springsteen's most fully realized album in ages and one of the very best albums of 2002.