If you didn't know that this was Springsteen's first studio album with the E Street Band since Born in the USA in 1984, you could figure it out just a few bars into the opener "Lonesome Day": the windy keyboards, with their Reagan-era air of vaunting pomp, sound flaccid and dated. It's the first of a series of underwhelming echoes of former glories that make The Rising possibly the worst album of Springsteen's career. "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" is a pale imitation of "Hungry Heart", while "Nothing Man", another of Springsteen's tributes to his blue-collar Everyman, comes burnished with familiar string-synth tones that simply remind one how much better "My Home Town" was. The problem is partly one of scale: Born in the USA offered 45 minutes of great songs, performed by a great band; at 73 minutes, The Rising just reveals how much hot air is flapping around the songs. Most depressing of all, though, is how poorly Springsteen deals with 11 September in bogus anthems such as "Into the Fire", "My City of Ruins" and the vapid "Empty Sky". He fares slightly better with "Worlds Apart", whose Qawwali wailing presumably signifies empathy with Islam, but his grasp of the wider issues appears just as flimsy as that of most of his compatriots. If this is how the country's leading political songwriter copes with the most significant event in recent US history, things won't be getting much better in a hurry.
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