First things first: leaving politics and sociology aside for a minute, this is the least musically interesting Springsteen album ever. For starters, there is hardly anything here that could even be mistaken for a hook. “Empty Sky” comes out about the best, as it might be mistaken for being vaguely catchy. I couldn’t quite remember how most of the other songs went even while I was listening to them. There were no significantly interesting melodic moments, or substantial melodic development.
Nor are there any other significant points of musical interest. There are no interesting harmonic turns, no unusual chords or harmony. The rhythms are totally generic. The arrangements and production are totally generic.
Even Max Weinberg can’t breathe life into this tired turd of a pile of songs. Is he even playing? Most of this sounds like it was recorded with drum machines programmed by the most unimaginative minimum wage white idiot the Boss could find.
Springsteen used to be a major artist. His first four or five records came from a hungry artist with a restless soul. He expressed this with music that went beyond being catchy, searching for new sounds and wild rhythms. There was nothing else that sounded like, for example, his original “Blinded by the Light.”
Over time however, he has pared back his spiritual vision and limited his musical palette to such a point that he’s making Jon Bon Jovi start to sound good. Even the lobotomized rock of “Living on a Prayer” or “You Give Love a Bad Name” is more musically adventurous and truly soulful than, say, “Nothing Man” which is just watered down “I’m On Fire” or “Brilliant Disguise” -the difference being that those bland, soul deadening mid-tempo “rock” songs had HOOKS. At this point, Springsteen really IS a nothing man.
Even “Into the Fire” lacks any substantial emotion in composition or performance. It would be difficult to come up with a scenario with more natural drama than the firemen rushing into the WTC, yet there isn’t an ounce of actual feeling here. This recording shows less genuine emotion than a Hallmark card. Speaking of trite Hallmark sentiments, “May your strength give us strength/ May your faith give us faith/ May your hope give us hope/ May your love bring us love.” Yet, if you mock these words, YOU will be the bad person, much as you would be for disagreeing with some congressman’s support for “family values” or “The Children.”
Any emotions the listener may feel are likely from memories of the firemen, not anything to do with Springsteen; they’re parasitic. Reference Milhouse’s dad on the Simpsons singing “Can I borrow a feeling?” Springsteen exploits the memory of those lost heroes like the cheesiest congressmen getting his picture taken with his arm around a fireman at ground zero. Hey, he might as well run for senate, as some have suggested.
“Worlds Apart” might in theory sound like a promising idea for musical expansion, as he brings in some Middle Eastern singers for a tale about a star-crossed interracial love affair. Paul Simon he is not, however. He’s not really going to substantially explore alien musical terrain; he uses the singers only for just the least bit of slightly exotic coloring for his standard tuneless mid-tempo rock song. It’s about the best song on the record.
In short, there is little or nothing to recommend this album musically. On merit, this has to rate among the least interesting major releases by a major artist in rock history.
Knowing this in his heart, Springsteen of course is not counting on MUSIC to sell this thing. See, he’s making a Major Statement about the 9/11 attacks. After all, he’s the self-appointed spokesman for the working class- and by gummy, firemen are working class. He’s much like Al Gore in this regard- though even Al Gore would likely have come up with more interesting attempts at songwriting than this.
Indeed, Springsteen has become a politician instead of an artist. He speaks for his audience- not himself. None of this album comes across to an objective listener as the heartfelt personal reaction of an artist. Rather, these are the carefully calculated and extremely predictable responses of a politician looking for votes. What can I say to express my sympathy, without saying anything controversial to cheese anyone off? Note how he carefully doled out a couple of minor compliments to the president during pre-release interviews on the “thoughtful” way he has conducted the war in Afghanistan- the precise little gesture to appease anyone put off by his typical and well known tired moderately liberal political beliefs.
I’m not even accusing Springsteen of dishonesty. I could appreciate a little cynical marketing. No, far worse, you can practically hear the gears whirring inside his head as he figures out his stance and talks himself into believing it. Give me the real and uncalculated if simplistic feelings of Toby Keith’s “Angry American” any day.
I cannot in good conscience review this album without calling him out for the gross immorality of the song “Paradise.” It is a sad, gentle acoustic ballad detailing the last thoughts of a suicide bomber. A sympathetic look at these petty life-hating monsters, ascribing them decent human character is a DISGRACE. Perhaps he will follow it up with a nice song about the internal angst of a guard at Auschwitz as he herds some Jews into the oven. Placing this amongst the songs about the heroic firefighters is to piss on their memory by the equivalence.
You could find no more direct example of the wickedness of liberal multiculturalism and moral equivalence. Worse, the song is such a passionless, hookless rote expression of the proper PC posture that you most likely won’t remember it five minutes later. The pure blandness of the song keeps it from generating even the heat of outrage.
Yeah, the record sold pretty good for a week or two- but but there were no actual hit songs. The record just made no impression on pop radio despite the fearsome corporate marketing, and it’s already dropping like a stone. At some future point, this album will be rightfully regarded as a black mark on Springsteen’s career, a crass and exploitative cash in by a has been latching on to a national tragedy.
When Springsteen appears on tv saying this is one of his best albums, it is understandable. Hey, he’s got a record to sell, and he has to psych himself up for a big tour. Anyone not on his payroll who says such things, however, is a damned fool.