• Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
On his new album, The Rising, Bruce Springsteen grapples with such weighty topics as mortality, the mind of a suicide bomber, the tragedy of September 11 and the triumph of the human spirit.

But before its release on July 30, the Boss is dealing with a much different dilemma: Namely, keeping his album off the Internet.

With Columbia Records prepping the release of Springsteen's highly anticipated first studio album with the E Street Band in 15 years, the label is in heavy anti-piracy mode--attempting to ward off Internet bootleggers while still giving Bruce fans a taste of the new music.

For Springsteen's disc, the label has nixed almost all advance copies of the album (the New York Times reports that just 10 CDs were sent out as of early July) instead opting to invite journalists and critics to exclusive "listening parties" to hear the new tracks. Most everyone involved, from record company publicists to the critics themselves, hate the parties, which have been held for albums from David Bowie to Radiohead: After all, just one spin of an album (especially for an artist like Springsteen, who actually writes lyrics that people want to hear) often isn't enough to make a decent impression.

"I feel bad for the journalists that have to review it with the publicists standing right here," acknowledges Amy Welch, a publicist for DreamWorks Records. To truly develop a feel for an album, she says, "sometimes it takes two or three listens, especially if it's an important artist with something to say. But the bottom line is security. So I guess it's the lesser of two evils."

It's just one of many strategies being used by record companies to give the media and public a taste for new albums, without becoming targets for premature downloading. And labels have been forced to get inventive. Many have sent out advance discs with encryption designed to trace the source of MP3s, while other companies have ditched CDs altogether: A Radiohead album once arrived in the form of an audiocassette, placed inside a Walkman that couldn't be opened.

More recently, DreamWorks created a special advance-listening Website for Papa Roach's new CD, Lovehatetragedy. The only problem: Some critics with dial-up connections had a hell of a time listening to the whole disc. (One writer from Entertainment Weekly ended up spending a good portion of the review bitching about how he couldn't hear all of the songs.)

"Nobody liked it," DreamWork's Welch admits. "A lot of people didn't have DSL lines or good connections, so it was more of a hardware failure. But I think we'll be forced to do it again."

Meantime, she says there will be advance copies of the upcoming release from multiplatinum pop-rockers Lifehouse--but they won't include two bonus tracks from the actual album. (Whether that prompts another tirade from Entertainment Weekly--only time will tell.)

As for Springsteen, Columbia has teamed up with America Online to stream a new song on the Internet (not for download, natch) every few weeks leading up to the album's release. And so far, the Times reports that the title track, "The Rising," was streamed 755,000 times in two days.

Still, enterprising fans have managed to put the AOL promo tracks up on MP3-swapping sites.

The Rising, produced by Brendan O'Brien, marks Springsteen's first full-length rock album since 1992, and his first studio effort with the E Streeters since 1984's multiplatinum smash Born in the U.S.A. Springsteen and company kick off their tour August 7 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.