Sunday, January 13, 2013

Even Indistinct Springsteen Is Worth Listening To! The Rising (My Next Artist Of The Month!)

The Good: Good lyrics, Voice, Music
The Bad: All falls within a very standard, predictable range for Springsteen
The Basics: Despite having good lyrics and a nice sound, The Rising offers little that is truly new to a listener who has heard Bruce Springsteen on the radio.

Lately, I've been calling it as I hear it on music and a number of well-known, established artists who are generally considered great have had albums panned by me. The main flaw in some of the albums I've listened to by Elton John (Songs From The West Coast, reviewed here!), Melissa Etheridge (Your Little Secret) and Seal (Hu manbe in g, reviewed here!) is that the music is indistinct; it flows from track to track with nothing to stand out, nothing that truly challenges the listener. Bruce Springsteen's reflections on the September 11, 2001 attacks, The Rising has a similar flaw, but unlike some of those other albums, it's still worth hearing.

My first full album listening experience from The Boss is The Rising and it is exactly what I would have expected from Bruce Springsteen having only heard his works on the radio before this. In short, the fifteen tracks that make up The Rising are almost 73 full minutes of rock and roll that is articulate, emotional and generally tells a story. Springsteen is a musical storyteller and The Rising continues that trend.

Generally regarded as Bruce Springsteen's songs about reacting to the attacks on September 11, 2001, The Rising is a series of songs that explore the extremity of the day and its aftermath. So, for example, on "Empty Sky," Springsteen sings about waking up to the airspace being empty, capturing the essential human loneliness of waking up alone and comparing it to planes being downed. Similarly, "Let's Be Friends (Skin To Skin)" is the perfect post-traumatic track for hooking up because you never know how much longer you have. If anyone could make a song about living for the moment because everyone could be blown up, Springsteen can and he does.

In general, what makes Bruce Springsteen worth listening to are his lyrics. He wrote all fifteen songs on The Rising and they carry his distinct flavor, which is fairly simple diction singing about emotions, events and - on this album - changes in the world. His lyrics are remarkably accessible to anyone and The Rising illustrates his working-class ability to appeal to virtually anyone who likes rock and roll.

So, for example, Springsteen opens the album with "Lonesome Day," which immediately sets the tone for the album. It is a straightforward, guitar-driven track that is about a person reacting to giant events outside themselves by making a comparison to a breakup. He compares the day of a breakup to a day of world trauma with lines like, "Once I thought I knew / Everything I needed to know about you / Your sweet whisper, Your tender touch / But I didn't really know that much . . ." set next to lines like, "Hell's brewin' dark sun's on the rise / This storm'll blow through by and by / House is on fire, Viper's in the grass / A little revenge and this too shall pass . . ."

Springsteen is a musical master of the art of analogy and The Rising illustrates his ability to introspectively compare giant events with personal ones is admirable and with his somewhat gravely vocals, it makes the lines seem deeply human. Springsteen's writing and vocals come to a wonderful head on "Nothing Man," where Springsteen beautifully sings in lonesome tones "Around here everybody acts the same / Around here everybody acts like nothing's changed / Friday night club meets at Al's Barbecue / The sky is still the same unbelievable blue / Darlin' give me a kiss / Come and take my hand / I am the nothing man . . ." It's a great song and most of the songs are equally expressive and emotionally intricate.

Not all of them are so intriguing or sophisticated, though. I still wince hearing Springsteen sing ". . .come on let me do you right . . ." on "The Fuse." And the upbeat "Mary's Place" just seems out of place on an otherwise mellow rock and roll album. It's like the happy interlude in the midst of more traditional, sophisticated and clever rock and roll tracks. The instrumentals on that track employ a brass section that does not fit the sound of the rest of the album.

And while that breaks up the homogeneous sound that makes the rest of the album indistinct, it does not help. Springsteen's sound is a guitar-driven band sound backing his vocals and in that way, much of the album sounds the same. "Empty Sky," "Lonesome Day," and "You're Missing" all sound alike. Springsteen's sound basically does not progress on this album and it sounds essentially like it did when he wrote "Streets of Philadelphia." In fact, "You're Missing" sounds almost identical to that earlier song.

That's not a bad thing, but it does mean that listening to this album leaves the listener with a mostly ambiguous listening experience. It leaves little impression one way or another, so while the lyrics and concept might well be wonderful, the overall album is incredibly average. And from Springsteen, I would hope for more.

The best track is the soft, musing "Nothing Man," the low point - despite the way it breaks up the sound of the album - is "Mary's Place."

For other, former, Artist Of The Month selections of contemporaries of Bruce Springsteen, please check out my reviews of:
Aladdin Sane - David Bowie
Rumours (2-disc) - Fleetwood Mac
American Favorite Ballads - Pete Seeger


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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