Bruce Springsteen’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks was widely regarded as a return to form and a bid for renewed commercial acceptance after a low key 1990s. Lots of musicians, particularly from among Springsteen’s generation, made music inspired by the events of September 11, but living within sight of the Twin Towers (“I woke up this morning to an empty sky”), Springsteen had more of a reason to do than most.
Musically, The Rising is a reunion with the E Street Band, which is welcome, yet the results are mixed. The E-Street band is largely wasted in heady mixes that aim straight for arena rock, rather than the subtle and virtuoso arrangements that the band created on their seventies albums. And as a good as a lot of these individual songs are, The Rising overall is too long and too homogeneous in sound, with too many mid tempo anthems.
Closer ‘My City Of Ruins’, the most effective piece here, was actually written earlier in response to the decline of Springsteen’s native New Jersey, but it makes perfect sense as a closer here, with its gospel feel the fitting conclusion to a Springsteen album that’s constantly referencing faith. ‘Lonesome Day’ and the title track are both propulsive, while ‘Empty Sky’ and ‘World’s Apart’ are both darker and more off kilter. ‘Let’s Be Friends (Skin To Skin)’ is a successful foray into pop territory with an upbeat arrangement and accessible melody, although the forced and awkward ‘Mary’s Place’ (“we’re gonna have a party”) is the album’s obvious weak point. ‘The Fuse’ is almost experimental, at least by Springsteen’s standards, with its claustrophobic rhythms, an expression of lust that’s more urgent than most of the explicitly 9/11 songs.
The Rising feature some strong songs, and it’s Springsteen’s best studio album since Tunnel of Love, but it’s also a missed opportunity. Trimmed down to a forty minute, ten song album, with a less laboured and more identifiable E-Street Band sound, The Rising could have been exceptionally good, but even as is, after more than a decade of under-achievement it’s a respectable comeback.