BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN | Magic | Columbia
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Bruce Springsteen hasn’t made a carefree record since 1973’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle, and even that one had a few ominous shadows. Everything since then has been about that ever-present darkness on the edge of town: either battling it (The River,) losing your identity and moral center to it (Nebraska,) or bravely transcending it (The Rising.)
Over the last 20 years, Springsteen has become a tighter, more precise lyric writer, moving away from the earnest, overheated imagery of his early work in favor of short-story nuance. Unfortunately, the life-or-death spirit that went with that earnest streak disappeared. Even when he periodically turned to his old foils, the E Street Band, the results felt like the smoothly crafted work of a middle-aged solo artist.
That’s what makes Magic such a bracing return to glory. It has the garage-band fervor of The River, amplified by a higher level of literary sophistication, and abetted by Springsteen’s rare willingness to let his jangle-pop flag fly. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” is wishful California melodicism, while “Your Own Worst Enemy” has Springsteen crooning in a register so high, you wonder for a second if it’s really him.
Like many of the songs on this album, “Your Own Worst Enemy” could be about a foolish ex-lover or a foolish president of the United States, and it works either way. Tracks like “Radio Nowhere” and “Last to Die” achieve a Social Distortion-level of thickness, and for the first time you can really hear that this is a band with four guitarists.
Some people will always prefer Springsteen’s grim alienation served cold, as on Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad, but this album reminds us what the E Street Band brings to the table. Their sonic might enables Springsteen to confront the world, even when he’s busy dissecting his own sadness. – Gilbert Garcia