Springsteen Rises to the Top

"The Rising" gives Bruce his first Number One in more than ten years

One week after Toby Keith and his vengeful, bubba-culture boot rallied a chart-topping 339,000 people to buy his red, white and blue-draped Unleashed, Bruce Springsteen knocked him down with a more meditative take on September 11th and its continuing aftermath. Springsteen's The Rising, which marks his first album of new material with the E Street Band in eighteen years, sold a whopping 525,000 copies, according to SoundScan, to give him his first Number One album in more than a decade.

A whole host of factors put Bruce back on top: Last year's Live in New York City debuted in the Top Ten with sales of 114,000, suggesting that fans were hungry for the E Street Sound, particularly after a successful reunion tour. There's also Springsteen's decision to promote the album in the boy band manner (which has since been co-opted by U2), popping up tirelessly in numerous television appearances. There's a strong lead single in the title track.

And then there's the music. Neil Young once said that Harvest put him in the middle of the road, thus he headed for a ditch. After selling more than 15 million copies of Born in the U.S.A., Springsteen was to the Eighties what the Beatles were to the Sixties. A solo artist despite the E Street clothes, he wasn't capable of breaking up, so he headed for a ditch. Tunnel of Love, peppered with sonic snapshots from Springsteen's life, was one of the best-selling disappointments of all time, moving 3 million copies. By turning his writer's eye inward, Springsteen essentially turned his fans in the opposite direction. His 1992 dual releases Human Touch and Lucky Town revealed a Bruce happy in love and as a father. They dropped in at Number Two and Three, respectively, before disappearing. His last set of new songs, 1996's The Ghost of Tom Joad, is to this day the only Springsteen album that failed to register platinum status (actually, it never even got to gold). Painted in Guthrie and Steinbeckian colors, the album was perhaps too pure a shot of social commentary for his fans' delicate palates.

Armed with the promotion, the single and the successful reunion, The Rising's real drive is still derived from his ability to look outward and connect with those fans. A culture needing coddling got its hug from The Rising, and the sales are a welcome-back embrace and a fatted calf supper fitting a prodigal son.

Perhaps most telling about this week's chart is just how handily The Rising stomped Linkin Park's remix album, Reanimation, which debuted at a strong Number Two, with sales of 270,000. Hard to use a collection of rejiggied tracks as a yardstick, but the rap-metal subgenre has taken three big swings this summer, with Reanimation, Korn's Untouchables and Papa Roach's Lovehatetragedy. Sales in the hundreds of thousands are hardly the stuff of strikeouts, but the numbers aren't remotely comparable to each of the three bands' prior efforts, more resembling weak groundouts to the second baseman.

If sagging anger management sales and Springsteen's toppling of Toby Keith wasn't enough proof that -- at least in music -- anger is on the out, one need only look at another pair of debuts further down the charts. The once-platinum angry guys in Filter mustered 32,000 sales for The Amalgamut (Number Thirty-two), while the quieter Beth Orton sold only 4,000 copies fewer of Daybreaker (Number Forty). Actually, a better comparison might be how thoroughly Filter were clobbered by Eighties hard rockers, Def Leppard, whose X debuted at Number Eleven with sales of 72,000; a good melody (with or without hairspray) can stick with you all day long, a bad mood tends to pass.

Next week should be interesting. The XXX soundtrack looks to have the shot at shuffling things up top, but soundtracks, which are released days prior to their respective films, tend to make their biggest sales splash in the second week of release. Springsteen has more promotional duty and an anticipated fall tour on the docket, which could make The Rising his first blockbuster in more than a decade. Afterall, it's already topped Joad's sales, and is halfway to besting Human Touch and Lucky Town. There have been too many false starts over the past couple of years to cite The Rising as a field general in a return-to-rock battle. But until the general public expresses an interest in the genre again, Springsteen's success is still a welcome return.

This week's Top Ten: Bruce Springsteen's The Rising; Linkin Park's Reanimation; Nelly's Nellyville; Now That's What I Call Music! 10; Eminem's The Eminem Show; Toby Keith's Unleashed; the Dave Matthews Band's Busted Stuff; Avril Lavigne's Let Go; Amerie's All I Have; and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' By the Way.