Review Summary: Come on, rise up.
At some point during the weeks following the September 11 attacks, The Boss was reportedly out for a stroll on the beach in his native Asbury Park, New Jersey when a stranger passing by on the road recognized him, rolled down his window, and said, “We need you now.”
It’s an understandable sentiment; Bruce Springsteen has always felt like the living, breathing essence of the American spirit in the face of turmoil, be it economic collapse or other working-class struggles. Across his lengthy career, his music resonated with millions and served as a voice for the young, alienated, weary, and more. It would hardly be hyperbole to think that only a man as powerfully inspired as the fading American dream itself could keep his countrymen from their own worst nightmares in the face of unbelievable tragedy. The following summer, The Rising
didn’t just succeed at numbing America’s pain, it essentially revitalized Springsteen’s career; an overlooked entry in the songwriter’s already stacked discography and a timeless coping mechanism for loss and grief.
From the first strings of “Lonesome Day” it’s clear that The Rising
is a bittersweet affair. Simultaneously optimistic but burdened by the weight of a reality, the stunning opener showcases confident, upbeat songwriting with a lingering undercurrent of sadness, a feat pulled off just as well with later offerings “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” and the record’s infectious hit title track. On these cuts, Springsteen’s role is one of comfort and support, often attempting to console in situations practically inconsolable. Shifting perspectives song by song, some likely autobiographical, some not, at no point does Bruce look outward for blame, preferring the high road to the easy path. There’s no blindly patriotic call against foreign perpetrators or those who look like them. Instead, as he’s done his whole career, Springsteen focuses on the everymen, in this case, the families of those who awoke to missing loved ones, and the community leaders trying to engage with those in need.
If there’s one point that looks beyond borders, it’s the stellar mid-album duo of “Empty Sky” and “Worlds Apart,” the former a bitter, confused rumination on whether revenge causes closure or only more emptiness, the latter a Middle Eastern-tinged slab of Americana that aspires to not let cultural differences and profiling destroy our basic humanity. Complete with backing Qawwali singers and an incredibly emotional guitar solo by Steven Van Zandt, “Worlds Apart” is also arguably The Rising
at its most experimental, the start of a run in the album’s center where the vaguely trip-hoppish “The Fuse” and borderline cheesy “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” stray with mostly satisfactory results from Springsteen’s heartland rock norm.
Like any healing process, The Rising
flows in peaks and valleys, moments where faith is restored and then snatched away again, and it’s in those darkest, most intimate pauses where the record produces some of its most affecting songs. “Nothing Man” adopts the perspective of a hero with depression and survivor’s guilt, while “You’re Missing” details the emptiness felt at home when you know someone you lived with will never come back again, and the desolate, soul-crushing “Paradise” takes that sensation one step further. Being placed back-to-back with the more exuberant, reassuring tracks like “Countin’ on a Miracle” and “The Rising” only serve to spotlight how easy it can be to slip back into the darkness when there’s nobody to lean on.
That’s why that man told Bruce we needed him. On The Rising,
Springsteen & The E Street Band’s rejuvenation corresponded with the necessary rebuilding of their entire country’s peace of mind. Even now, 14 years further on up the road, the sparing use of lyrical specifics makes The Rising
a prime listen for any tragedy big or small, while not being so vague as to discredit the integrity of the context it was fine-crafted in. Like the firefighters who saved others on that awful September morning, Bruce himself dove into the fire's aftermath and came out preaching strength, faith, hope, and love. May his continue to give us ours.