The only thing less preposterous than a pop star tackling the 11-month-old cloudburst that was 9-11 is probably a writer tackling a pop star tackling tragedy. Nonetheless, the grail of musical criticism and credibility Rolling Stone dropped a five-star bomb on Bruce Springsteen’s latest record, The Rising.
Springsteen’s five-star score follows perfectly in suit with Rolling Stone’s recent tendencies to award older artists positive reviews. Recently, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan have been recipients of five-star reviews. It is painfully obvious why Mick Jagger would receive a positive review – the magazine is called Rolling Stone. Bob Dylan is some kind of exemption as well – while I couldn’t care less for Love and Theft, at least it wasn’t just a magazine suckling at the teat of its namesake.
It’s not about the stars. They really don’t mean anything. In this case, it’s about the reasons that the stars were given.
The Boss hasn’t exactly had a prestigious, groundbreaking or vitally important career. His voice was the voice of the factory worker, his lyrics of hardship and financial difficulty appealed to the very people he came from. For many fans, Springsteen was equal parts rock and roll god and heartland, down-home brother in a blue collar.
Image is everything.
His giant-sized breakthrough Born in the U.S.A. basically was misinterpreted by 9 out of 10 people who picked up the record. Springsteen’s then trademark disaffection and disenfranchisement with the human condition in the United States was interpreted as little more than a series of anthems for the middle-class majority.
The sullen lyrics of the album’s title track describe a Vietnam vet down on his luck after being used by the government, and the battle cry of “Born in the U.S.A.” became more a rousing chorus, and less the angst-ridden barb the record intended it to be. “Glory Days” another of the seven singles on Born in the U.S.A. blew up on the airwaves despite its own dose of Springsteen’s sullen lyrics.
Fast forward 18 years into this post-Sept. 11, nothing has really changed other than more news coverage, and a few new cabinet positions in the United States.
Springsteen is drawing rave reviews and for all of the wrong reasons. Without even hearing The Rising, I can promise that it is not very good. Not “excellent,” not “classic,” it might be good, but in all likelihood, it is simply exceptionally average. Reviews have championed his ability to write from the post-Sept. 11 world with the appropriate levels of compassion and empathy for the issue. In fact, Bruce even went far enough to contact victim’s families and talk to them about how they felt, so that the ever-present third person narrators in Springsteen’s tunes would have their usual life when dealing with the tender wounds from the 11th.
The Rising is an album that is apparently so rich with importance that Rolling Stone opened its freelance pocket wide and ensnared MTV’s voice of reason and reporting Kurt Loder to write the review for an album that was guaranteed five stars when its release date was announced.
Loder likens the album to a “requiem for those who perished in that sudden inferno.” This proves to be a nice literary precursor and eventual transition into the part of the review where Loder actually discusses the album, and the first track he talks about is “Into the Fire.” So, is the record really a requiem for the deceased, or in fact a wonderful tool for writers to showcase their ability to connect music to the real world and play the part of the great line between popstar and plain-folk.
These sort of campy transitions should sicken readers and listeners of The Rising completely. Not all of The Rising’s tracks were written post-Sept. 11, a few were penned pre-planes-into-buildings fiasco.
If this record had been released in an America where Sept. 11 had never happened, reviewers and listeners would be singing a different tune altogether. Probably something closer to the groans made when Springsteen released his last studio effort.
Let’s not forget we are dealing with the man who played songs on movie soundtracks like the Tom Hanks AIDS-flick “Streets of Philadelphia” and “Secret Garden” from “Jerry Maguire.” Springsteen fans will point out that he won a Grammy award for “Streets,” and I’d point out the hundreds of artists who have won Grammys and proven themselves to be nothing special or nothing hovering above average on the musical radar.
I’d expect to see The Rising all over critical top 10 lists at the end of 2002. This is unfortunate, even more unfortunate is the amount of Grammy Award nominations, and actual Grammy brass that the record will likely garner. All of this, not because of Springsteen’s musicianship, but because of its subject matter. It is unfortunate that the American people would rely on a pop artist’s take on tragedy, rather than treat the record as just that, a record.
Springsteen’s album, when I finally sit down and listen to it, will no doubt be a disappointment. At best, I would expect it to be an above average record, with a message that allows it to be enshrined as “classic” from the Tuesday that it came out.
Oh, that’s a parallel I didn’t even think of. The album came out on a Tuesday, and Sept. 11 was a Tuesday. Maybe Bruce should’ve waited to release the album on a Tuesday that was the 11th to further entrench his and his album’s “classic” status. Looks like the marketing wizards behind Springsteen’s rise back to the top hadn’t planned on that.
– August 12, 2002