Bruce Springsteen has spent 18 years burning down the road since ''Born in the U.S.A.,'' but for the first time since that 15-times platinum release, he has recorded a studio album with the E Street Band. The 14-song set, called ''The Rising,'' is due in stores July 30, according to his publicist.
The album includes two songs already known to fans: ''My City of Ruins,'' the mournful, gospel-influenced track Springsteen played at the post-September 11 telethon ''America: A Tribute to Heroes,'' and ''Further on (Up the Road),'' a gritty rocker with some of the feel of his 1992 album ''Lucky Town''; he played it two years ago at several Madison Square Garden performances, and bootlegs have since circulated. The other 12 songs are of more recent vintage; Springsteen told the Associated Press that many of them were written with the events of September 11 in mind.
But the album isn't notable just for the return of the full E Street Band, who joined the Boss for a reunion tour in 1999 and 2000 (the outing spawned ''Live in New York City,'' an album and DVD, last year). It also marks the first time Springsteen has opted for a big-name producer, rather than the customary team of manager Jon Landau and engineer Chuck Plotkin. Springsteen turned to Atlanta-based producer Brendan O'Brien, known for helming guitar-driven albums for such modern-rock acts as Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine, and the Offspring.
Bob Bell, senior rock buyer for the Wherehouse Music chain, was among the retailers who recently got to hear five tracks from the new album, and he tells EW.com it boasts a new approach for Springsteen. ''It's pretty current sounding,'' Bell says. ''It's not him trying to recreate the past; it's totally contemporary in sound and subject matter.''
Still, Bell cautions that no one should infer too much from O'Brien's presence; the album doesn't adopt the hard-rock sound of, say, Rage. O'Brien is also known for producing rootsier, pop-oriented albums by the likes of Train, Pete Droge, and Matthew Sweet, which may be a better gauge of the Springsteen album's approach.
One thing's for sure: Unlike Springsteen's last studio album, 1995's folk-oriented ''The Ghost of Tom Joad,'' ''The Rising'' is going to be a full-fledged rock album. E Street guitarist (and ''Sopranos'' star) Steve Van Zandt recently told EW.com that he sees garage elements in the band. ''It's in there -- we all started as garage bands.... There's a lot of obvious '60s roots in there -- that's the main characteristic of garage.''
But will it sell? Springsteen's last rock efforts -- 1992's simultaneously released ''Lucky Town'' and ''Human Touch'' -- were disappointing, but Bell is optimistic: '' I think this is more commercial than some of his recent records. There was a time when he was trying to distance himself from his commercial success, but it seems like being out on the road with the E Street Band has re-energized him.'' And if Springsteen announces a new tour with the E Streeters, as one might expect, that wouldn't exactly hurt sales either.
Full track listing for ''The Rising'':
''Into the Fire''
''Waitin' on a Sunny Day''
''Countin' on a Miracle''
''Let's Be Friends''
''Further on (Up the Road)''
''My City of Ruins''