Saturday, October 13, 2007

Review #22: Magic

Six years ago is supposed to be a long time in the music business. I mean, places change, times change, people change, tastes change…However, it’s been six years since Bruce Springsteen last did an album with The E Street Band and since then, he’s released two albums without them. In 2005, he issued Devils &Dust, the third installment of his acoustic album series and in 2006, he put out We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, a set of old covers honoring the legend of Pete Seeger. This October, he put out Magic. So, without further ado, read on!

The album kicks off with Radio Nowhere, an anthem about the fact that radio, let’s face it…sucks. I would’t say it’s particularly a classic Springsteen anthem, like “Born in the U.S.A.” or “Hungry Heart”, but it’s still a really good song. It’s a great choice for a single. The lyrics are easy to memorize and filled with metaphors that gets his anger out.
Next is You’ll Be Comin’ Down, which is about a girl who’s so egotistical that at one point she’ll “be comin’ down” from her pedestal. By no means is this a standard Springsteen. It’s more like a really good pop song with a great message. Clarence Clemons does get a nice saxophone solo, but it’s not really that special as it just blends in with the basic track and isn’t too distinctive. Still “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” is a really nice tune.
Livin’ In The Future, the projected second single, is next. It definitely feels like a The River reject, with a good melody that doesn’t match the dark lyrics (like “Hungry Heart” for example), which is a concept that runs rampant throughout that album and in other spots in The Boss’s career.
Following that is Your Own Worst Enemy. Springsteen said on the Today show that the album has a polished sound like Pet Sounds (shame on idiotic Matt Lauer for ignoring his comment), and while I disagree that the whole album has that feel, this particular song does. It’s interesting use of bells and percussion definitely show this. It would be amazing with some Beach Boys harmonies behind him, but the E Street Band’s harmonies are good enough for this.
With a harmonica opening, Gypsy Eyes comes next. There’s really no structure to it, with just three verses and no chorus. Still, the track is a nice upbeat one, but again, the lyrical tone is much darker. If you strip away everything and leave just Bruce, a guitar and the harmonica, you’re left with a track that could’ve been on Devils & Dust.
Girls In Their Summer Clothes is definitely a surprise track here. While the lyrical topic seems like a retread of the waterfront carnival of 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), the song is hardly anything like that. The song is a slow pop track, barely anything like Springsteen.
If there’s one song on here I’m not particularly fond of, its I’ll Work For Your Love is it. There’s not much going on in the song, just a guy saying that he’ll work for his girl’s love. The instrumentation isn’t that interesting either. One thing that does annoy me is that the last verse ends with “I watch your hands smooth the front of your blouse and seven drops of blood fall” and then he rushes to the chorus. What’s that?
The title track, Magic, is the shortest track, and easily the best in the set. It’s really subdued and not overstated. It’s more of a Devils & Dust reject with a prominent violin and subtle strings. The lyrics are filled with incredible word play. Springsteen doesn’t say the word “magic”, but you know he’s telling us how deceptive it can be if you become hypnotized by it.

Last To Die is the only overtly political track on the album. Yes, “Livin’ In The Future” has its message, but that is sort of hidden by Springsteen’s use of words. “Last To Die”’s message is not hidden by any fancy layers whatsoever. “Who’ll be the last to die for a mistake” he asks at the beginning and end of each chorus and if that isn’t a political statement, then I don’t know what is.
Next is Long Walk Home. The track has a sort of “My Hometown” topic, but is completely different. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think the gist of the song is that the singer doesn’t want to go home, because he knows of all the problems. So, he’s going to take a long walk home and he tells his “Darling, don’t wait up for me/Gonna be a long walk home”
Closing the album is Devil’s Arcade. The song is very complex lyrically and figuring out what it really means is a difficult challenge. I think it’s about the rush you can get when you get behind someone, but it just turns out that you’re being played, like being in a devil’s arcade. (How does he get these ideas?) The song doesn’t give the album quite the climax you might be hoping for, with the whole “The beat of your heart/The beat of her heart” theme that eventually closes the curtains not really providing that punch.
Wait! There’s more! Yes, there is a complete unlisted track that follows “Devil’s Arcade”. The track is a nice dedication to Terry Magovern, who died in July this year. He was an associate and friend of Bruce. The track features just two acoustic guitars, a piano and keyboard and is an incredible personal dedication. Although there is no title, I suppose it could easily be called “Terry’s Song”.
The album is packed in a thin, glossy paper case and included is a glossy book, complete with the standard lyrics and credits. Also, there is a written dedication to Magovern, which reflects the song’s main theme: “When they built you, brother, they broke the mold.”
The cover photograph is merely a simple shot of Springsteen in a white t-shirt. I only wish it was a little more powerful. It is rather bland and unexciting. On the inside is a nice gatefold shot of all the members of the band.
In conclusion, I like this album. I don’t love it, but it’s really good. Magic is not the best album The Boss has ever put out, but easily the best in the past ten years or so. I don’t like how the Rolling Stone’s review constantly calls the album much like his earlier ones. As I have said, there are really only a few tracks that hearkens back to the Springsteen of the seventies and early eighties (“Radio Nowhere”, “Livin’ In The Future” and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes”). David Frickle calls the album “openly nostalgic” and relates nearly half the songs as if they came off of The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle. I’m sorry, but there’s no way any of these songs can compare to the seven cinematic songs on that album. None of these tracks are over five minutes long (“Devil’s Arcade” is a mere couple of seconds over, and runs to 5:20 with the break between it and the secret track).
What I can’t stand about major critics and their reviews of older musicians and their new music is that they constantly want to connect it to the artists’ works during their hey-days. I admit, I do it sometimes, but it’s wrong. I don’t go around expecting every Paul McCartney album to be Band On The Run and Tug Of War over again and I don’t think Springsteen can churn out Born to Runs and Born In The U.S.A.s year after year. Magic certainly isn’t as good as those two albums, but if Springsteen had never done anything before, this’d be an incredible album, just like how if McCartney was never a Beatle his albums would all be perfect.
Why can’t we just look at one piece of work and take it for what it is: one separate work with its own identity and its own bounds. Why do Bob Dylan’s last three albums have to be taken as a trilogy? Why does an artists’ works have to be divided into periods?
So, I’m just asking, when you hear Magic, enjoy it. Love it. Listen to it over and over until you really just “want to hear some rhythm”. Be happy that the man still rocks and writes great music.


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