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The Oprah of Rock'n'Roll

Bruce Springsteen's new album, "The Rising," takes a soft, unsatisfying look at September 11.

9:20 AM, Aug 2, 2002 • By DAVID SKINNER
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There is one great song here, "Nothing Man." The title suggests some trite little folk business about humility and the common man and so on. But this one song has so many things the rest of the album can't even come close to: honesty, emotional depth, a delicate style without being whimpy, originality. In short, this song is a little classic amidst rows of superfluous nonentities. The only other worthy tune here is the eloquent lullaby, "You're Missing." With its gentle rocking of cello, it almost gets lost in the quiet of its weepy surroundings, but fortunately its stringent beauty lifts the song clear into view. When the organ starts to ride the ending, it's not to keep you awake.

The more obvious attempts to leap onto the stage and command attention accomplish very little. For example, "The Fuse Is Burning" is a geriatric handling of a classic rock trope of violence and social unrest. If this is the sound of a coming explosion, one won't even need to cover his ears. A total whimper. The title track, "The Rising," is devoid of meaning--an old-fashioned Springsteen roundhouse romp that feels big, but for no good reason. It's hollow and old inside. The album closes with a pair of nothing specials, with drippy spirituality on the side. That they are called "Paradise" and "My City of Ruins" tells you everything: This was supposed to be a sad, yet uplifting and unexpectedly therapeutic experience, a kind-of rock-and-roll Oprah. Unfortunately, that's exactly what it is.

"The Rising" does contribute, in a way, to the debate over whether nothing or everything changed on September 11. Like a lot of people, I switch back and forth on this point. The persistence of reality television makes me think nothing's changed. Palestinians cheering in the street at the deaths of Americans and Israelis leaves me thinking it's a new and dangerous day indeed. But Bruce Springsteen didn't change on September 11. Which is not to say he doesn't feel the awfulness as deeply as anyone else, just that his response as a musician never roams beyond the paths he broke open and mastered a long time ago. Thus we have the genuine but not unexpected triumph of a song like the "Nothing Man." Thus, too, after the attempted murder of scores of thousands of Americans, he gives us a song called "Let's be Friends."

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.