UP UNTIL now the events of 11 September 2001 have produced little in the world of popular music other than jingoistic flag-waving by certain second and third rate US musicians.
The current number one in the US album charts, for example, is a piece of gung-ho filth called Unleashed performed by a redneck country singer called Toby Keith. Keith has a range of songs variously celebrating bombing Afghanistan, kicking ass, and glorying in the Red, White and Blue. There was therefore much anticipation awaiting the new Bruce Springsteen album, The Rising.
Much of the eager anticipation, certainly as far as his fans were concerned, came from the fact that this was the first studio set Springsteen has recorded with the E Street Band since the Born in the USA album. Secondly, and for the audience beyond Springsteen’s existing fans even more importantly, the album was said to be Springsteen’s response to 11 September. Springsteen, unusually for a rock star, has grown more political and more left wing as he has grown older.
The easy solutions of motorbikes, fast cars, the open road, rock & roll and the girl you love in his early songs gave way to deeper questioning and more overtly political lyrics. He went on to condemn the Republicans and the Democrats as ‘two parties for the rich’. He then wrote and performed the fantastic ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’. The song was about the killing of an unarmed, and completely innocent, young black man by New York cops, whose representatives were outraged at Springsteen’s response.
Therefore many will no doubt have been hoping for this album to express horror at the war hawkery of Bush, Rumsfeld et al. If so, then Springsteen disappoints. He makes little or no overt generalised political comment on the events. Instead he attempts to look at the human tragedy. He tries to sing through the voice of the loved ones left behind-their pain, their loss and their incomprehension.
He sings of their desire for ‘an eye for an eye’ on the track ‘Empty Sky’. But these are not songs of revenge or jingoistic glory-rather they are sad songs pleading for a different world. So the track ‘Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)’ is both a plea to an ex-lover and a cry for a different response to the hawks:
I know we’re different you and me,
Got a different way of walkin’,
The time has come to let the past be history,
Yeah, if we could just start talkin’.
This is spelt out even more clearly in the song ‘World Apart’, about a love affair between an American and a Muslim from the Middle East. ‘May the living let us in before the dead tear us apart’, cries one lover to the other. The song is performed to a distinctly Arab musical sound, with additional backing and vocals by Asif Ali Khan and Arab musicians. Clearly Springsteen is making a point here.
Nevertheless, such points are subtle and understated, and it will disappoint many that he is not more overt. He raged against the misuse of ‘Born in the USA’ by the US right, and there is certainly no anthem here for them to steal, but neither will there be much to stoke their anger. This is a fine album, subtle and tender of tone, that most Springsteen fans will enjoy, but an anti-war anthem it is not.
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