Review Summary: Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band return after five years with Magic. Nothing up their sleeves, just great rock n roll.
When we last heard from Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band five years ago the group had just recorded their second album together in nearly 20 years, the 9/11 inspired The Rising
. A fine effort full of good songs and strong performances, the album put Bruce Springsteen and his legendary group of backing players back on the map not as a band recapturing past glories as was sometimes suggested of their 1999 reunion tour, but as a vital and creative rock n roll unit once more. But as great as The Rising was, the question remained: After 20 years apart who were Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band outside of a recent reunion tour and the shadow of an album dealing with death, grief, loss, and crisis of faith?
Springsteen's new album Magic
kicks off with a rock radio ready single that only begins to answer that question, and things quickly get clearer from that point on. Radio Nowhere
is an energetic rocker with a strong resemblance to the old Tommy Tutone hit Jenny (867-5309)
, and while Bruce may have unintentionally borrowed the riff, the similarities stop there. Radio Nowhere dispels any pop notions for a desperate tale of desolation and a hard driving rock sound that recalls Bruce's late 70's – early '80's work, and is an exciting single to start off the album. So, are we getting Born In The USA, Pt.2
? Is this what the Springsteen faithful have waited two decades for? A modern rock record with a big beat and a look back on past glories?.
Not a chance.
Once again produced by alternative / modern rock producer Brenden 'O Brien whom Bruce employed for The Rising in 2002 (using an “outside” producer for the first time) Magic
is nothing short of what its title might suggest. After the opening rock number the album quickly shifts to something perhaps unexpected at this point in Springsteen's career and a considerable risk, at that. It harkens way
back to early Springsteen. He of the romantic visions, whimsical melodies, grand pop songs, and fiery R&B you can find scattered about on his first three albums. And it stands well alongside any classic Springsteen record you can mention.
Which is not to say this is a work of nostalgia by any means. Rather it is an album of modern sounds and pleasant surprises, the first of which comes early on as the band moves from the raucous Radio Nowhere to the smooth Byrds influenced pop of You'll Be Coming Down
. Full of lush vocal harmonies set against long time Springsteen sax man Clarence Clemons outstanding horn playing, the song sounds bland and misplaced put after such a spirited start. And it was a song I considered filler after a few listens. However after a few more I just couldn't get it out of my head.
is a very “catchy” album. The soulful sax of Living In The Future
coupled with Bruce's funky guitar work and keyboardist Danny Federci's glockenspiel recalls the Born To Run
R&B of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
. And I'll Work For Your Love
features a whimsical lead in piano reminiscent of many Bruce songs past. But as said before, this is not a work of nostalgia. Bruce Springsteen has always been an artist who draws on the very history of rock n roll, and the styles explored on Magic are neither unique to him or music. But done this well from the writing to the performances to the recording itself is a little rare in music. This is a truly superb and mature
work by one of rock's all time great artist, devoid of pretense, self consciousness, or the shallow rock trappings of the day. This album flows
and is an easy and entertaining listen from start to finish.
Brenden 'O Brien must be given much credit here, also. With Springsteen albums being primarily self produced efforts up until his collaboration with 'O Brien on The Rising, it could be argued the sound
of Bruce's music was becoming dated and perhaps a bit too obvious. O' Brien has changed that, working with The E Street Band to deepen their sound and exploit their musical strengths. Always solid, dynamic, and exciting players, 'O Brien has refined and freshened the E Street sound, bringing textures, instrumentation, and arrangements to the group which were absent on past efforts. And he has smoothed out the rough edges on the rockers, as well.
Of those rockers, well, Radio Nowhere is about as wild as this album gets. So don't get your hopes up for some fist pumping Glory Days
twang and thump. Of the three other straight up rock tracks on the album, Bruce and band play them with cool, measured energy and swing, never overwhelming the songs or giving in to histrionics. Gypsy Biker
, which serves as the center of the album, is restrained and thoughtful, the tale of a veteran coming home in a body bag and the lives left behind. However Bruce's lyrics are vague and poetic here, letting you take what you wish from the song emotionally
if not quite literally. And Last To Die
, while being more obvious in its lyrics (Who'll be the last to die for our mistake / The wise men all were fools / What to do?) nonetheless moves along with the same grace the rest of the album manages thanks to the musical aplomb of Bruce and his terrific band.
surprises? Not really, but with an album this strong we don't need any. The Phil Spector pop sound and style of Your Own Worst Enemy
with its tubular bells, orchestration, lush backing vocals, and yes, kettle drums, finds Bruce crooning
, his voice literally soaring into the heavens at songs end. Likewise the breezy Beach Boys inspired sounds of Girls In Their Summer Clothes
is something perhaps surprising at this point in Bruce's career, but only in the sense that you weren't expecting it. When asked recently what this album was about, what was its theme, Bruce simply answered “It's The Byrds, The Beach Boys, a California album.” That it is. But its also an album that lyrically threads human loss and dislocation throughout, and the politics that sometimes go with. And its this common thread that not only pulls the record together tight, but lends it some weight, as well. California and parts near and far could use more albums like this....
At 58 Bruce Springsteen is supposed to be going quietly into the night, maybe doing his solo acoustic tours or an oldies act. Sixty year old men do not rock like this. Not Jagger, not Townshend, not Young. Nor do they make albums which take most everything they have ever done in their career and slam it onto a 12 song disc that isn't embarrassing, over hyped, or fodder for the “over forty and still ROCKIN” classic rock crowd. But Bruce Springsteen And The E Street Band have done just that and more with Magic
. And they have rarely done it better.