Bruce Springsteen kicks off his U.S. tour with the E Street Band tonight in Atlanta. The first leg of the tour includes stops at the TD Garden in Boston on March 26 and Albanys Times Union Center on April 16.
The past decade has found the New Jersey rocker commenting on changes in America: From the post-9/11 landscape in The Rising in 2002 to the Occupy Wall Street themes depicted in his new album, Wrecking Ball.
Here is a look back at The Boss studio work recorded between 2002 and 2012:
For someone whos achieved such star status during his life, Bruce Springsteen has still been tough to pin down especially since the late 1980s.
Hes wandered musically, worked sporadically, and had an off-again, on-again relationship with The E Street Band, the group that brought life to so many of his brilliant early musical visions.
But with Sept. 11 as a thematic backdrop, the 52-year-old Springsteen has found his voice again on The Rising. Its his first full set of new studio songs with The E Street Band in 15 years, and really the first time the band has played a significant role on one of his new studio albums since 1984s Born in the U.S.A.
While artists ranging from Paul McCartney and Neil Young to Alan Jackson and Charlie Daniels have written about Sept. 11, Springsteen weaves wonder on this disc with his gift for subtle expression. The tragedy is played out more in the lives left behind than the events themselves, and the 15 songs are filled with reflections of pain and loss, faith and retribution, and questions about our place in the world. But ultimately, theres a powerful sense of spiritual awakening and strength that emerges, as resolute as the album title itself.
There are several songs here that are as good as anything Springsteen has ever written, especially Paradise, a haunting ballad that begins with images of a school-aged suicide bomber:
Where the river runs to black/ I take the schoolbooks from your pack/ Plastics, wire and your kiss/ The breath of eternity on your lips/In the crowded marketplace/I drift from face to face/ I hold my breath and close my eyes . . . and I wait for paradise.
Its chilling, as are tracks like Youre Missing, written from the vantage point of a family suddenly without a father, and the set-closing My City of Ruins, an older Springsteen song of destruction and survival, which somehow seems like it was destined for a post 9/11 world.
Producer Brendan OBrien, whos worked with Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine among others, gives the disc a host of refreshing textures, and The E Street Band complements Springsteen in typically superb fashion. They also provide a handful of distinctive retro moments that should bring a smile to long-time fans, especially during the bristling rocker Further on Up the Road and the party-flavored Marys Place.
The albums most musically adventurous moment arrives during Worlds Apart, which masterfully combines Eastern textures (courtesy of Pakistans Asif Ali Khan and his group) and blazing rock n roll. Melding the styles was risky but it works perfectly, accentuating the songs lyrics about the vast differences between people somehow all living on the same planet.
There are a few fleeting moments of mundane rock, with The Fuse and Countin on a Miracle, sounding particularly pedestrian compared to a lot of the rest of The Rising. But overall, it is Springsteens most fully realized album in ages, one of the very best albums of 2002 and a gripping portrait of these turbulent times.
Devils & Dust, is the far quieter follow-up to Bruce Springsteens post 9/11 opus The Rising, which he recorded with his longtime mates in The E Street Band. Like that album, this one is produced by Brendan OBrien, who also played bass on several tracks here. But with just a couple of exceptions, theres barely an E Street Band member found on this primarily acoustic affair.
The characters found in the 12 tracks are fascinating, and almost all of them are on the edge, from the soldier torn between fear and his survival instincts in the title track, and the boxer who took a fix and then a fall in The Hitter, to the adult son contemplating his youth and his absentee father in one of the albums most unforgettable selections, Long Time Comin.
That latter cut is also one of the most uptempo songs on the album, and has a sound that could have easily fit onto Springsteens Lucky Town album. It features some of the songwriters most eloquent poetry, especially when he ponders the effect that one generation has on the next: Now down below and pullin on my shirt/ I got some kids of my own/ Well if I had one wish in this godforsaken world, kids/ Itd be that your mistakes would be your own/ Yea, your sins would be your own.
It makes for some thoughtful commentary, as do numerous other selections here. While the album isnt one of Springsteens best from a melodic viewpoint, it is when it comes to the characters and the cinematic storylines.
It even earned him a parental warning label for Reno, a song that portrays a visit to a prostitute in extremely explicit terms. Elsewhere, he paints a vivid picture of Christ walking up Calvary Hill in Jesus Was An Only Son, offers a deeply compelling saga about those crossing the southern border in Matamoros Banks, and takes his one and only clearly political turn in the title song. Its during the more recently penned Devils & Dust, that Springsteen contemplates the thoughts of a soldier in Iraq:
I got God on my side/ Im just trying to survive/ What if what you do to survive/ Kills the things you love/ Fears a powerful thing/ It can turn your heart black you can trust/ Itll take your God filled soul/ and fill it with devils and dust.
Even during this phase of his career, when he could be simply on cruise control, Springsteen is penning mighty prose, the kind that makes one understand why he still means so much to so many.
Whenever Bruce Springsteen works on a project without The E Street Band, theres a segment of his fan base that is skeptical from the start.
But those who turn their backs on this offering will be missing out on one of the mo
st intriguing and satisfying musical adventures on which Springsteen has ever embarked.
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, finds the Jersey rocker delving into songs closely associated with folk icon Pete Seeger, the troubadour who together with his friend Woody Guthrie cast a lasting spell on the social consciousness and musical direction of a generation of songwriters. Springsteen was initially inspired to look deep into Seegers catalog when he recorded We Shall Overcome in 1997 for the exceptional tribute album, Where Have All The Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger. He kept coming back to some of those songs during the following years, and in three one-day recording sessions in 1997, 2005 and 2006, he recorded the inspiring, jubilant, provocative and timeless music thats heard on this set.
Springsteen was far from alone for these live recordings, as he enlisted 13 other singers and musicians, several of whom hes worked with in the past. His wife and fellow E Street Band member Patti Scialfa is featured prominently on backing vocals, as is violinist Soozie Tyrell. The troupe also features several members of Southside Johnnys original horn section, including the great Ed Manion on saxophone and Richie La Bamba Rosenberg on trombone. Combine those players with various banjos, violins, upright bass, tuba, trumpet, pump organ, guitar, accordion and numerous other instruments, and its one wild ensemble. But man, do they make it work.
From the opening moments of the sprightly Old Dan Tucker, which dates back to at least the 1840s, Springsteen and his huge group are locked into the moment. And there are plenty of stellar moments here, particularly an extraordinary reading of the old spiritual, O Mary Dont You Weep, a New Orleans jazz-styled Jacobs Ladder, a joyous and fiery Pay Me My Money Down, and an absolutely exquisite version of the often-recorded Shenandoah, another song that dates back to the early 19th century.
Theres no mistaking the message heard in Mrs. McGrath, an antiwar ballad first published in Dublin in 1815, which details a legless, battle-scarred soldier returning home to his shattered mother. Its as enlightening musically as it is lyrically, thanks to a very Celtic arrangement thats as close as Springsteen has ever come to a straight-ahead Irish song.
Is there anybody alive out there?
For years, Bruce Springsteen has shouted out variations of that line to fire up the crowds at his mesmerizing concerts, so its about time hes been able to incorporate it into the lyrics of his blistering new single Radio Nowhere.
The track kicks off Springsteens first album with the E Street Band since 2002s 9/11 inspired The Rising. With its cranking guitar riff and pounding backbeat it sets the albums mood perfectly, calling to mind the best of Springsteen and the E Street Band from years gone by.
After his delightful folk-flavored foray with the rollicking Seeger Sessions band during the past couple of years, theres obviously been a very deliberate effort by Springsteen and his management to get back to the high energy brand of rock n roll hes best known for. At times, the approach works brilliantly. Yet there are also times on the new disc where he sounds like hes working a little too hard to capture the past, and in the process, the Jersey rocker runs the risk of repeating himself.
Thats quickly apparent by the second song, Youll Be Comin Down, which is melodically reminiscent of the earlier Lucky Town, and the quite catchy Livin In The Future, which almost sounds as if Springsteen was pushing his two keyboard players to reinvent Hungry Heart.
The momentum really starts to build after the light-hearted, Beach Boys echoes of Girls in Their Summer Clothes, which leads into Ill Work For Your Love, a sweet cinematic rocker that blends a barroom filled with colorful characters into scenes filled with plenty of religious imagery and visions of faith in motion.
And while some have downplayed the political aspects of this recording, theres no doubt that the Springsteen who campaigned with Sen. John Kerry during his unsuccessful 2004 presidential bid is still deeply involved with and troubled by the current state of the world. In one of the albums most passionate songs, Last to Die, he even evokes one of Kerrys most memorable lines from 1971 when he testified to a Senate committee on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
The album closes impressively with the trilogy of Long Walk Home; the haunting, huge build of Devils Arcade (which Springsteen reportedly dedicated to Iraqi War veterans during one of the warm-up shows for his tour); and then the untitled hidden track, which fans have been referring to as Terrys Song. That final selection, which Springsteen wrote in honor of his recently deceased assistant Terry Magovern, ranks with the most poignant ballads the veteran songwriter has ever penned.
All of you who used to complain about the ridiculous amount of time it used to take Bruce Springsteen to release new albums have nothing more to whine about.
He released his last album, Magic in late 2007 and barely more than a year later weve got the follow-up Working on a Dream. Once again produced by Brendan OBrien, it is neither a classic nor a disaster. It has some great songs and some forgettable ones. And its got one song that is as bad a song as anything Springsteen has ever released, but well get to that soon.
So the guy is working faster. Is it worth it?
Well, if you listen to the heart-tugging tale of growing older next to someone you love (Kingdom of Days) and its lyrics like I dont see the summer as it wanes/ Just a subtle change of light upon your face, the answer is yes. If you listen to the fascinating arrangement of Life Itself, where Springsteen takes major musical chances with wild guitar solos, etc., the answer is yes. If you listen to the eight-minute-plus Western saga about trying to break free of sins (Outlaw Pete) that just happens to have some of Springsteens best singing in ages, the answer is yes. And if you listen to tracks like the shuffling, Byrds-like acoustic beauty of Tomorrow Never Knows or the ode to his deceased bandmate Danny Federici (The Last Carnival) the answer is yes.
But there are too many songs on this set that would have ended up on the cutting room floor in Springsteens early days and hardcore fans would have been clamoring for them, trying to dig them up on bootlegs.
Yes, the title track has some nice Beach Boys traces going on in the arrangement, but the song is frighteningly mediocre. The albums first single My Lucky Day sounds like Springsteen and his mates in the E Street Band decided to do a parody of themselves. And all of that brings us to one of the songs on the set that may be getting the most early buzz: Queen of the Supermarket.
What in Gods name possessed one of the worlds greatest artists to release never mind even write Queen of the Supermarket? Its an ode to the sexual undercurrent Springsteen has discovered while shopping for groceries. That may say more about his current life than we want to know but its ghastly. Its worse than the worst songs on his worst album, Human Touch. Its enough to make one long for the days of Mary Queen of Arkansas, which has now taken a step up in the list of Springsteens worst songs.
So what we have here is Bruce Springsteen 2009, still our guy, still ridiculously lovable and in many ways especially if you saw him at the pre-inaugural concert on the Washington Mall still very much the soul and conscience of his generation.
Will he disappoint us sometimes?
But the thrills are still worth discovering. Goofy, funny, electrifying, charismatic, passionate, poetic and rockin Springsteen carries on.
Youve got more money than all the banks on Wall Street, a reputation as an icon that follows you everywhere, and you wake up every day as some sort of American myth.
Its got to be tough being Bruce Springsteen.
Sure, there have been hard years for the Jersey rocker. He grew up very middle class, worked his way up in bar bands and in recent years witnessed the passing of several friends, including two of his bandmates: keyboardist Danny Federici and saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
But hes also living the good life, celebrating the release of his 17th studio album. Springsteen has indeed been recording them and releasing them like no other time in his career and that seems to be a blessing and a curse.
This is not an E Street Band album. In fact the hardest working band in the business can barely be found here. Produced by Ron Aniello, it still sounds like The E Street Band with some occasional Celtic touches.
The best thing about the album? It includes some fabulous songs. The worst thing? It also features some downright duds. Some of the best should be very familiar to Springsteen fans. Hes been doing Wrecking Ball on stage since 2009 and Land of Hope and Dreams since 2000.
We Take Care of our Own, is a rockin classic American tale, perfect for the times that were living in, while Rocky Ground is a subdued gem focusing on a soldier, frequently in biblical terms.
Still its tough to get away from the lackluster tracks.
Celtic sounds or not, Shackled and Drawn falls very flat, This Depression matches its title perfectly, and Youve Got It sounds like an outtake from a guy whose outtakes are usually even magical.