Monday, October 29, 2007

Bruce Springsteen - Magic

On October 2, 2007, Bruce Springsteen marked his return to recording with the E Street Band with the release of Magic. Aptly named, because this album is fantastic evidence of the magic that Bruce and the Band can make together (oh how we've missed you, Clarence Clemons). Magic pulls no punches and is no holds barred in its metaphorical criticisms of the current political climate, the Iraq war, rock radio, and humanity in general.

Perhaps a bit of a backpedal from the post-World Trade Center The Rising, on which Bruce and the E Street Band bled blue for a country unified around a tragedy, Magic is the song of a country divided between that tragedy and a regime that has lied to its people and taken many sons and daughters to their deaths overseas. When Springsteen belts "Who will be the last to die for a mistake?" on "Last To Die," folks from all political camps can't help but wish there was an answer in sight. Optimism steps aside and makes way for criticism and suspicion.

The production of Brendan O'Brien on the album can come off as an affront to those who have been with Bruce since Born to Run. O'Brien's ham-handed production is too big and tries to put an already large band front and center, all at once, so that too much is going on at any given time to enjoy a brilliant lead or solo. However, Clarence Clemons' saxophone always gets its time in the sun, as heard on the standout "Livin' In The Future", probably the most classic Springsteen track on the album and one of the best Springsteen tunes since "Lucky Town".

That a man in his late 50s can write songs that cross generation gaps like "Radio Nowhere" and still stay faithful to the sound that made him famous ("Livin' In The Future", "Girls In Their Summer Clothes") is honorable in itself, but that Bruce can write glass-half-full nostalgia songs and blue-collar anthems as well as wistful burners that have relevance to Boomers, Gen Xers and Gen Y is a testament to his knack as a lyricist and a songwriter. Not only are the songs on Magic of quality, they're catchier than anything Bruce has done since the 80s.

Springsteen's lyrics can border on the repetitive: "I just want to feel/hear your rhythm" incessantly repeats on "Radio Nowhere", "None of this has happened yet" is the mantra of "Livin' In The Future", and so on, ad nauseum, throughout his career. As far back as 1975 on "Backstreets", Bruce was repeating "Hiding on the backstreets" like it was going out of style. But it has not gone out of style. The key element of pop music is repetition, and it continues to work for this guy. Whereas detractors may harp on this element of Springsteen's lyrics, the critical mind beholds the unclear, often nebulous double meanings of his lyrics.

When Bruce says "The girls in their summer clothes pass me by" on "Girls In Their Summer Clothes", is he lamenting about getting older? And on "Gypsy Biker", does "Now I'm countin' white lines and getting stoned" mean lines of cocaine or dotted lines on a long desert highway? And it's entirely possible that "Radio Nowhere" is as much critical of rock radio as it is of an apathetic society.

Magic is a somber album. It is almost the antithesis of Born in the U.S.A.. But it is case-in-point proof of the Boss' ability to speak for an entire class of Americans. Where patriotism swelled into blind allegiance six years ago, it has given way to a patriotism that questions motives and is bridled with trepidation. Where Springsteen twenty years ago enjoyed youth and vitality, he approaches 60 with a cognizance of mortality (the hidden track, "Terry's Song", is about Terry Magovern, part of the Springsteen camp for 23 years, who passed away in July).

This album doesn't break new ground; rather, it is more of Springsteen at his finest. And where it succeeds, it truly is magic.


Anonymous said...

"GIrls in Their Summer Clothes" is a great song, but it's a blatant rip-off of a melody line from the Who's "The Kids Are Alright"... But it's a great melody line in either event.

Anonymous said...

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