Celebrating The Who's recent tour, MCA has re-issued the band's debut album, 1965's My Generation, bundled with an entire disc of bonus material. My Generation includes The Who's breakthrough hits "My Generation" and "The Kids are Alright" as well as "I Don't Mind" and "Out in the Street." The bonus disc includes alternate takes of some of the album's tracks, as well as previously unreleased songs that were recorded for, but didn't appear on, the original album.
The Boss is back, and for the first time in 18 years, he's got the full band back together. The E-Street Band, that is. Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt and Max Weinberg, Danny Federici, Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent, along with Nils Lofgren and Patti Scialfa back Springsteen up on The Rising, his first album with the full E-Street band since Born in the U.S.A.
Some of the brashness and fire of the band seems subdued after twenty years of living, but the drum-pounding, horn-honking spark of Darkness on the Edge of Town is still alive in songs like "Counting on a Miracle," "Further On (Up the Road)" and "Worlds Apart."
Much of the album is centered on the tragedy of 9-11, so this is a darker collection than Born in the U.S.A. But Springsteen manages to sing about the pain of those left behind (in the head-hanging slides of "You're Missing") and acknowledge the horror of loss on that day (in the sawing but still powerful sway of the opening track, "Lonesome Day," without straying too far into the maudlin. And in the backporch gospel-tinged hymn "Into the Fire," he sets up his character's loss with the lyrics "I need your kiss/But love and duty called you someplace higher" but then turns that pain into a soaring, positive prayer:
"May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love."
"Empty Sky" speaks to the anger of waking up without the World Trade Center as part of the New York skyline and "Nothing Man" takes a stripped back strumming guitar and quiet keyboard approach to presenting the story of one of the everyman heros of the World Trade Center rescue crews in a quietly chilling soliloquoy.
Despite the theme and the somber subject, The Rising is never heavy handed (most of these songs could be interpreted without any context of 9-11); this is no melancholy retread of Nebraska or "Philadelphia." Springsteen offers ambling Heartland sounds in the Mellencamp ouvre in "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," handclapping flirtation in "Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)" and a nod to "Brown-Eyed Girl" era Van Morrison soul power in "Mary's Place." And the title track has the stomp and anthem power to mutate pain into celebration that brings to mind Steve Miller's classic "Jet Airliner."
It closes with the gospel choir-backed "My City of Ruins," a slow, organ-tinged number that builds from a defeated question to a transcendant rallying cry:"Lord … come on, rise up/come on, rise up."
Artists have always taken tragedy and turned it into something that speaks beyond the raw suffering of the original event, something timelessly enduring and moving. Springsteen has given us the first lasting musical score to memorialize the events of 9-11. He's also given us a fine album of 15 new rock, country, gospel and pop songs that are not so specific that they can't be enjoyed without ever thinking of the World Trade Center. A dual victory.
Bruce Springsteen will play Chicago's United Center on September 25.