Quantcast
Neither The Rising or Signs is as good as its most ardent supporters insist, nor as bad as its detractors claim. As genre exercises in American Rock and B-movie Thrillers, both are knowing and polished,
low culture masquerading as high art, but emerging as middlebrow product.
FAITH-HEALING OR SNAKE OIL
FOR THE MASSES?
Springsteen and M. Night Shyamalan Offer Pop-Culture Comfort Food, But Is It Enough to Feed Our Spiritual Hunger?
If you feel, you heal.

Not the immortal words of the zoot suit-wearing messiah in Robert Downey’s Greaser’s Palace, rather it’s the message of both Bruce Springsteen’s celebrated new album, The Rising, and M. Night Shyamalan’s equally praised movie, Signs.

It’s no mistake each has topped the album charts and box-office tallies, respectively, this past week, with both exceeding even their distributing company’s sales expectations.

The media has fallen into line as well, with Time anointing the Boss "Reborn in the USA" and Newsweek tapping M. Night as the next Steven Spielberg.

All well and good. The two are inarguably master craftsmen in total control of their tools, though it’s not the art of what they’re doing that’s in question, but its meaning. And that has stirred up some controversial backlash to both album and movie in the ephemeral world of Internet chat rooms and office water coolers.

Made in an atmosphere of post-Sept. 11 reckoning, the popularity of The Rising and Signs isn’t a surprise. Both are framed as spiritual comfort food, at once familiar but with the novelty only a full-on multimedia hype campaign can engender.

The sound of each is spectacular. Producer Brendan O’Brien’s post-grunge wall of sound is at first disconcerting, like the digital version of Born to Run, a mishmash lacking the kind of separation that makes the new remastered Rolling Stones albums such a revelation. The aural touchstones we’ve come to expect from the E Street Band are few and far between, though—the Big Man’s sax flourishes, Danny Federici’s accordion-like B3 organ, Roy Bittan's pulsating piano, Bruce's wailing harp. Rather, it is the stacked, triple-decker guitars (Little Steven and Nils joining the Boss on slashing overdrive), thwacking drums and rave-up choruses that drill the songs into your head, with Springsteen’s (must be) intentionally repetitive, cliche-ridden lyrics a mantra which leads to, hopefully, transcendence and, finally, faith.

M. Night also does incredible things on the haunting soundtrack of Signs, creating a living, breathing environment out of chirping birds, cornstalks rustling in the winds, aliens scratching on the roof, baby monitors crackling with strange transmissions. It is almost enough to make you forget about the basic absurdity of the film’s premise, whose celebrated crop circles turn out to be the biggest maguffin this side of Shymalan’s obvious Hitchcockian homage (though I still prefer Fincher’s The Panic Room). Mel Gibson and company don’t so much see "dead people" as hear them this time.

Neither The Rising or Signs is as good as its most ardent supporters insist (a five-star Rolling Stone review for the former, the Newsweek rave for the latter), nor as bad as its detractors claim. As genre exercises in American Rock and B-movie Thrillers, both are knowing and polished, low culture masquerading as high art, but emerging as middlebrow product.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Springsteen album is actually growing on me, its urgent melodies kicking in, though its insistence that it speaks for the people seems a little disingenuous, just as it did in Tom Joad. And Signs, while not nearly the cinematic breakthrough The Sixth Sense was, is still a vast improvement on Unbreakable. The problem is Shymalan’s mastery of cinematic language is used in the service of a comic-book vision of the universe.

The biggest problem I have with both album and movie is the Sept. 11 trappings, the plea for faith and belief over logic and science, the insistence that we need to "rise above," embrace our own Almighty and stay the course. The trouble is, in a capitalist society, asking the listener to make that leap only hides the real request—wanting them to buy that album or a ticket to see that movie. That’s the real penance.

Our popular artists won’t admit they’re just as impotent as we are to fight the evil in this world, though evidence of resignation is all over The Rising and Signs. All we have is the now. And, if you want to invest that emotion in something you can consume, you’re certainly entitled. Just don’t download them from the Internet, OK? But don’t expect either to save the world or even yourself… they just let you pass away a few hours without having to think about our collective mortality. And that’s the problem with the brand of faith on display in The Rising and Signs: It’s all about rhyme over reason, belief over knowledge, and ultimately, make-believe over reality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NEAR TRUTHS:
THE CAKE AND
THE CANDLES
Marketshare machers. (10/27a)
KENDRICK INKS WITH UMPG
Lamar enters the House of Jody. (10/27a)
YTD MARKETSHARE: AND THE WINNER IS...
It's a lock. (10/27a)
MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, PART 8,761: SURGERY IN THE TIME OF COVID
Planning for an Election Day hopped up on painkillers. (10/27a)
ONCE IN A LIFETIME
Vote. Do it now. (10/27a)
RAINMAKERS 2020
Bring your umbrella.
GRAMMY OUTLIERS
Mulling possible surprises.
HALLOWEEN IN QUARANTINE
Why not wear a mask indoors?
ELECTION 2020
What drugs will help us get there?
 Email

 First Name

 Last Name

 Company

 Country
CAPTCHA code
Captcha: (type the characters above)