Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
I've been waiting for Magic for a long time. I am a pretty big Bruce Springsteen fan, but that doesn’t make me instantly take to everything he releases. The Rising, his previous album with the full E Street Band, wasn’t the return to form I had hoped for. Given the true-life tragedy that comprised its core concept, the songs are a difficult listen to begin with and I just couldn’t wrap my ears around it. Devils and Dust, Springsteen’s next one without the E Streeters, missed the mark for me as well (though, I do dig the title song.). With Magic, his first album all of all new material with the E Street Band in five years, I thought, “hmmm, now here are some very interesting, singable tunes, almost — dare I think it — in that ol’ Born In The U.S.A. tradition. On further inspection, these 12 songs maybe also be throwbacks to the days of Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
There’s no doubt that it’s the catchy melodies that hit you when you first listen to Magic. Guitarist Steven Van Zandt remarked that this time his “Boss” was sticking with songs of a more commercial appeal, and it serves him well. Take the opener “Radio Nowhere.” This is about as rockin’ a single Springsteen has ever written. Unlike the autobiographical storytelling of “Glory Days,” “Thunder Road,” or “Born To Run,” this number reveals a craftsman-like ability to offer a glimpse into a character, while expounding on a universal theme. With the great refrain of, “I just want to hear some rhythm,” you get the sense that Bruce is bemoaning the state of radio (and the world?) at large.
“You’ll Be Comin’ Down” is about as poppy as it gets, with some great, straight-ahead guitar work sustained by drummer Max Weinberg’s reliable, solid beat. A nice ringing chorus and Clarence isn’t to be denied even if his sax line is kind of simple. Under some familiar organ playing and soloing from Danny Federici, Springsteen lays down some rather heavy lyrics on “Livin’ In The Future,” a jaunty little tune in that rockabilly tradition, with plenty of “nah, nah, nahs” toward the end. “Your Own Worst Enemy” opens with some nice strings and is full of the pathos Springsteen’s lyrics can evoke Being the apolitical cuss I am, I tend not to buy into political metaphors, but this tune sounds like a good stab at a personal story.
I love the guitar, harmonica on “Gypsy Biker,” which settles into familiar Springsteen storytelling. When it comes to the splendid “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” you can’t help singing along to this tale of an older man looking back wistfully (but not pining) at those girls who now “pass him by.” There’s lots more keyboard work on “I’ll Work for Your Love” Finally, we get a quieter with the title track. This one could be something from one of Springsteen’s solo acoustic stuff, although not as stark as Nebraska. There’s a tasty organ floating in the background and you can hear Springsteen lamenting about the state of the country. Soozie Tyrell also makes her mark with her violin. She actually opens the next tune, “Last To Die,” full of passion with a good chorus over a rather minor key. The E Streeters answer back with some great counter melodies, backing vocals and that sense of urgency that makes this a well-written tune with a familiar political overtone.
“Long Walk Home,” one of my clear favorites, find the Boss at the top of his game. Think of everything you ever loved about Bruce Springsteen — well drawn characters, great melodies and hooks, the band at the fore — and this song has it all. “Devils’ Arcade” sounds like a great ride that never truly gets off the ground. Still, there’s some fantastic imagery and a building lyric, but it doesn’t compare to the others on Magic. “Terry’s Song,” the uncredited finale with the chorus of, “When they built you brother/They broke the mold,” is dedicated to Bruce’s friend and long-time bodyguard Terry McGovern. As an old-time Bruce fan, Magic is an album I personally have been waiting for a very long time. Springsteen shows he can still deliver, adding classic songs to his already bulging canon of classics. Which makes Magic just that: Magic.
~ Ralph Greco, Jr.