If there is one music artist in America who could (or would) pull off a tribute to Sept. 11 without its being a crass exercise in commercial exploitation, it would be the Boss. In The Rising, Springsteen reunites with the E-Street Band for the first time in 20 years, with the result being 15 songs, most of them grounded in the events of 9-11. Springsteen fans will love it.
And it does start off promisingly, but eventually a good many of the tunes melt into sort of an E-Street Band self-parody, that familiar Springsteen four-four backbeat laced with the gratuitous sound of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone. Veteran guitarist Nils Lofgren, though, is a nice addition here.
“Into the Fire,” conjures up the photo of the grim-faced fireman rushing up the stairs of the World Trade Center against the flow of office workers trying to escape. It’s sentimental but surprisingly upbeat. “Nothing Man” is a nice piece about average people suddenly turned into instant heroes. But then we’re knocked over the head with “Countin’ on a Miracle,” an uninspired effort that strains and reaches and comes up as nothing much more than a Springsteen cliché.
Two songs, “Empty Sky” and You’re Missing,” lament the sudden loss of a loved one: “Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall,/ Mama’s in the kitchen, baby and all./ Everything is everything, but you’re missing.”
“Worlds Apart” has a Middle-Eastern/African beat and is a call for understanding, but then “Let’s Be Friends” spoils the mood with a Billy Joel-sings-a-'50s-do-wap sound. “Further on up the Road” sounds like it could have been penned by Tom Waits, with its spooky lyrics about skull rings and graveyard boots. “Mary’s Place” could have been a leftover from The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, with its rousing robust tempo and sax. Falling back on convention doesn’t always work.
The high point of the CD is “Paradise,” a stark, haunting song with a simple acoustic folk sound that harkens back to the Nebraska album. “My City of Ruins” is a Dylan-like tune of hope and encouragement with a certain gospel feel.
Part of the problem here may be that the drama and horror of Sept. 11 have been pretty much played out at this point. Trying to capture them nearly a year later is a tough go, even for the Boss.