Warning: Hard-core Springsteen fans better avert their eyes, this review doesn't grovel at the feet of the Boss.
Yeah, I know The Rising has already garnered its share of raves, including Kurt Loder's five star Rolling Stone review -- "The Rising, with its bold thematic concentration and penetrating emotional focus, is a singular triumph." I disagree, I'd call it "The Fallen".
I like the idea of collection of 9/11 inspired musings. If the man had written great songs that expressed the fears, anger, sorrows of 9/11 he would have made the record we need. My first couple of listens felt like endurance tests, I had to constantly resist the urge to jump ahead to the next track. When Springsteen breaks the 9/11 trance with a couple of limp party tunes, I imagined the PR department guys desperate urgings "Hey Bruce, don't be such a downer, we gotta move product." One song immediately poked through the soupy mist -- "Empty Sky, " where Bruce actually sounds like he feels something when he sings "I woke up this morning to an empty sky." It's a great song, and he sounds like he's in front of a living, breathing band. Too bad the guys disappear on the very next track, "World's Apart," only to be replaced with a ripe overlay of sampled Middle Eastern voices, instruments and percussion. Correction, they are in fact actual musicians, but it's hard to tell for sure.
On "Mary's Place" Springsteen gets fairly close to a revisitation with the E Street Band's glory days, and that wonderful line, "Your favorite record is on the turntable/I drop the needle and pray" temporally prodded me out of my stupor. The band clicks on that one, but they spend most of the album sounding like an assemblage of anonymous sidemen. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the beautiful stillness on "Paradise" and the gentle roll of "You're Missing." I was thankful to get a rise out of the three guitarists -- Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, and Springsteen -- cavorting on "Countin' on a Miracle" and on the title track. There are, honest-to-God massed strings scattered about the tracks, but I only know that from reading the credits -- they mostly sound like synths sloshing around under the music. Then again, nothing sounds real -- there's no space, no room, it's a congealed mess.
Worse yet, the record never finds a groove -- the rhythm section can't seem to get out of its own way (poor Max Weinberg, years of bashing away behind Conan O'Brien's talk show band dulled his beat). The Rising's sound is so lame I had to pop on Born to Run, hardly an audiophile masterpiece, just to make sure my system wasn't seriously out of whack. Naw, Born to Run sounds vital and alive. Oh I get it -- maybe The Rising's aural fog is meant to invoke the dust cloud that hovered over NYC for months after 9/11. The opaque production style might be the most creative aspect of this lackluster effort.
Enough of my grumblings, millions of fans will covet this CD and shell out big bucks to see the Boss when he comes to their towns. I just wish the band could go into a studio and simply play their asses off. Play it like they really mean it.
Sound Quality: 60