Devils And Dust is one of Bruce Springsteen's more personal, less commercial albums — but someone forgot to tell his fans. The disc, released on April 26th, debuted at Number One in ten countries, including the U.S, where it sold 222,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
"I think it was a big deal for all of us, and it's very validating to the album itself," says Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, of the largely acoustic collection's strong sales (Springsteen's previous solo album, 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad, sold 107,000 copies in its first week). "Thirty-plus years into his career, Bruce is writing new songs, some of which are the best ever, and the audience is involved with his present work and not just the past. That is a unique situation."
The album, released in the new CD/DVD DualDisc format, benefited from heavy TV advertising and aggressive marketing, including a VHI Storytellers episode and a performance on National Public Radio.
Devils and Dust even sparked an Eminem-style controversy over its lyrics: Starbucks backed out of negotiations to carry the CD, in part because the song "Reno" includes a line in which a prostitute offers anal sex. But neither Springsteen nor his handlers appear to be upset. "This next one will be available at Dunkin' Donuts stores everywhere," Springsteen joked at a May 7th concert in Denver. "The Springsteen camp has looked on this development with a sense of humor," says a source close to the artist. "But isn't it odd that Wal-Mart is comfortable carrying Devils and Dust, and Starbucks isn't?"
Meanwhile, Springsteen has been unearthing numerous rarities on his second-ever solo acoustic tour, which kicked off in Detroit on April 25th. In addition to regular renditions of the Human Touch chestnut "Real World" and the outtake "Part Man, Part Monkey," Springsteen has played the Lucky Town tracks "Book of Dreams" and "My Beautiful Reward" (on pump organ, no less), the Tunnel of Love obscurity "Two Faces" and the long-unreleased fan favorite "The Promise." He also broke out solo-piano versions of the better-known "The River," "Tougher Than the Rest" and "Incident on 57th Street."
Before the tour, Springsteen was concerned about how his show would work in larger venues, including arenas set up in half-house configurations. "The stuff demands a lot of focus from the audience," he told Rolling Stone. "The voice that I write in tends to be an interior voice: It's the voice of the person thinking. To get that, you need a lot of stillness." But he's been pleased with the response so far: "The audiences have been totally in tune with the experience that Bruce is trying to create," says Landau.
Springsteen's last scheduled U.S. date is May 20th, but there are more solo performances planned — though it's not yet clear whether the new shows will be in the summer or fall, Landau says. Also coming this fall is the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Springsteen's classic Born to Run. Any plans for a celebration? Maybe. Says Landau, "We're aware of that anniversary."
This story is from the June 2nd, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.