& Dust (Columbia) may be Bruce Springsteen's most difficult
album to embrace both for its ephemera Americana sound and the
messiness of its ideas. The call this time isn't for his fans
to meet him in a dream but to contemplate why those dreams slip
further and further out of reach. As Chris Papaleonardos wrote
of the album, the key to our dreams is love, but bound up with
our capacity for love are the fears which threaten it.
On an album
that repeatedly returns to the theme of a mother's love for her
children, crucial to understanding this threat is the mother in
"Black Cowboys." Like the mother in Bruce's "41 Shots," she can't
protect her child from the outside world and this mother winds
up being the one who endangers him. Love itself is a difficult
truth to hold onto on an album where marriages fail and lovers,
mothers and their children are repeatedly separated by death.
The fears and tragedies that linger threaten our very soul.
no point in Springsteen's career
has the storm seemed more menacing,
but it's also never felt more necessary
because there's no other route to
get to the promised land. Without it,
we are destined always to be
at the mercy of devils and dust...
apparent reason for hope is implicit in Springsteen's insistence
on identifying these perils. But the solo acoustic show I saw
in Denver went a step further: including "The Real World" and
"Part Man, Part Monkey" which is Springsteen's way of insisting
that acknowledging the danger is essential to getting a grip on
The sequence of "Reno," "The Promise" and "My Hometown" made it
clear that the magnitude of the task extends from the most intimate
revelations to the state of the economy. Playing "The Rising"
after this sounded like Martin Luther King Jr's call at the 1967
SCLC conference for America to be "born again" - asking us to
individually and collectively redefine life, liberty and the pursuit
spelled out the rest. Johnny 99's declaration, "It was more than
all this, judge, that put that gun in my hand," pointed up just
what kind of understanding our songs can call for even in our
increasingly unforgiving society. A crowd singalong on "Waiting
on a Sunny Day" showed that amidst all this pain we still can
But this was followed by "My Best Was Never Good Enough," which
made it equally plain that seeking the solutions in cliches won't
cut it. The haunting percussive version of "The Promised Land"
ended the show with Springsteen's vision of a twister that blows
away illusions and clears the way for real answers. In that moment,
the space in the theater collapsed and everybody faced that tough
truth with what felt like eye-to-eye intimacy, even from my spot
at the back of the auditorium.
At no point
in Springsteen's career has the storm seemed more menacing, but
it's also never felt more necessary because there's no other route
to get to the promised land. Without it, we are destined always
to be at the mercy of devils and dust and that's no mercy at all.
- Rock & Rap Confidential