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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bruce Springsteen -- Magic


After the artistically energized Devils & Dust and the joyous Seeger Sessions, one would think Springsteen's first foray with the E Street Band in five years (and only second in twenty-three!) would take all that positive energy and run with it.  And one (that being me) would be wrong.  Magic is energized in certain ways, and sounds thicker than ever, but it's themes are as stark and reflective as its cover implies.
Magic starts with "Radio Nowhere" a fast-paced classic fakeout. The song bemoans the state of FM Radio as it gradually dies to satellite, but works in a spiritual angle with Springsteen trying to "make a connection to you." I'll take vague pronoun references to God over the fumbling all-inclusiveness of The Rising, anyday. One might think this song sets the tone for the album, but PYSCH!, it doesn't. "You'll Be Comin' Down" introduces the heavy mid-tempo groove the rest of the album rolls on. Drummer, Max Weinberg, and bassist, Gary Tallent, are in lockstep throughout Magic, presenting perhaps their tightest work yet. The entire band sounds great, and Brendan O'Brien's production work utilizes the "Wall of Sound" technique to the fullest. Springsteen lets a little Beach Boys influence in, as well, with some tinkling and tocking noises and vocal harmonies tossed in (see "Your Own Worst Enemy"), which somehow makes the rock sound and harsh themes of Magic more resonant. Those themes are essentially prophetic, with Springsteen all but announcing the coming financial crisis. "You'll Be Comin' Down" starts as if a kiss-off to an ex-lover, but it soon becomes clear the entity headed for a fall is the good ole USA. "Livin' in the Future" continues the idea of partying straight off a cliff. It also mirrors the metaphoric breakup of a relationship with lines like "the grounds keeper opened up the gates/And let the wild dogs run." Magic sticks to the metaphor of a wayward woman as the nation at first, but things become more clear as the album progresses. "Gypsy Biker" minces no words in its anti-Gulf War sentiments. The opening line? "The speculators made their money on the blood you shed/Your momma's pulled the sheets up off your bed." Ouch.
While Bruce hides his sentiments under meticulous, well-recorded arrangements, they are there for anyone willing to take a closer look. It turns out the the title-track, and the whole album isn't referring to the good kind of magic. "Magic" in this case means government trickery. As such, Magic is Springsteen's most political work yet. Thankfully, though, his disappointment with the moral choices of the nation come from a personal place. It's clear from these songs that he loves what he is critiquing, and this makes the political tone bearable and listenable for those who disagree with his opinions.
But whether you agree with his sentiments or not, Springsteen was right. Approximately a year after the release of Magic, the country went into financial meltdown. Since then, it's been "A Long Walk Home" indeed, and we haven't yet sat.

2007 Columbia
1 Radio Nowhere 3:19
2 You'll Be Comin' Down 3:45
3 Livin' in the Future 3:56
4 Your Own Worst Enemy 3:18
5 Gypsy Biker 4:31
6 Girls in Their Summer Clothes 4:19
7 I'll Work For Your Love 3:34
8 Magic 2:45
9 Last to Die 4:16
10 Long Walk Home 4:34
11 Devil's Arcade 5:20
12 Terry's Song 4:11

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