From my senior year of high school through the beginning of my sophomore year of college, I was a Bruce Springsteen fanatic. I bought most of his albums, collected dozens of bootlegs, and saw him live three times.However, I’ve found myself losing interest in The Boss over the past few years. “Devils and Dust” in 2005 had some great songs, but also some incredibly boring ones.
And last year’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” was an enjoyable take on traditional folk songs, yet my iTunes library tells me that I haven’t listened to it since the month after it came out.
So, when I heard Springsteen was releasing “Magic” — his first album with the E Street Band since 2002’s “The Rising” — I was not particularly excited.
My pessimistic outlook on the album appeared to be justified when “Radio Nowhere,” the album’s first track, was released as the leadoff single.
The song reminds me of “Vertigo” by U2, which is not a good thing. That is to say it’s built around a catchy riff and simple lyrics — “This is Radio Nowhere/Is there anybody alive out there?” — and becomes increasingly monotonous over repeated listens.
Much to my surprise, the rest of “Magic” is fairly solid. The biggest problem with “The Rising” was its length, and Springsteen mostly eliminates that problem here. At 11 songs and 43 minutes, the album moves at a relatively brisk pace.
“Magic” also finds Springsteen effectively utilizing the tremendous musicians that make up the E Street Band. “Gypsy Biker” features a scorching guitar solo from Nils Lofgren, while the orchestration on “Your Own Worst Enemy” and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” adds just the right amount of bombast without sounding too over the top.
The album also finds Springsteen effectively balancing his playful and political sides. “Livin’ In the Future” is a throwback to his “Born in the U.S.A.” style, except it happens to be a lot better than most of the songs on that album.
On the flip side, the song “Last To Die” asks, “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake?” and evokes the obvious image of the current Iraq War, of which Springsteen has been a noted critic.
The highlight of the album, “Long Walk Home”, tells the powerful story of a disillusioned war veteran who returns home to find everyone has become “rank strangers to me.” Throughout his career, Springsteen has been one of the best at interspersing political commentary in his songs without it coming across as inappropriate or annoying. This album is no exception.
For me, the best part about having a new E Street Band album to listen to is that it has inspired me to revisit some of his classic work from the 1970s and ’80s and remember why I used to be an obsessive fan.
“Magic,” while satisfying at this stage of Springsteen’s career, is hardly on the same level of brilliance. A listener who has never heard albums such as “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” should become acquainted with these earlier albums before exploring Springsteen’s newest. Trust me, there’s a reason your parents like him so much.