I’ve seen at least one review of this CD that calls it Bruce Springsteen’s best record since 1980’s The River. I guess it you’re idea of a Bruce Springsteen record includes lots of soarin’ guitars and wailin’ sax solos and the E Street Band front and center (unlike the last album the band did together…the more somber The Rising…which used the band as sidemen rather than as a integral part of the overall sound) that might indeed be true (personally I think that Springsteen has made a lot of wonderful music since 1980 but to each his own when it comes deciding who the “real” Bruce is and should be.)
Magic has a lot of the classic E Street vibe…this sucker rocks and the Big Man is all over the first few tracks…with lots of radio and concert ready rockers to please the souls of Springsteen fans (like yours truly.)
But Bruce is more than a bit cranky here (the unamused look on Bruce's face in the cover photo is quite appropriate to the lyrical content of this record) at the same time…while the grooves are hard and rock solid, the lyrics are often dark and lacerating. That’s not a criticism…far from it… just a statement of fact. The opening “Radio Nowhere”, for example, is an unabashed slam against the current state of music radio set to insistent, irresistible beat while the acerbic “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” wraps a “what goes around comes around” warning in a rocker so tight that you can almost see the audience dancing as the band plays it in concert.
Clarence Clemmons, in fine form throughout, wails the opening of “Livin’ in the Future” with assurance. Bruce is in fine voice throughout the record with none of the twang that informed his last few records present (the twang fit perfectly on those records but would be out of place on the anthem-like tunes here.)
The bittersweet “Your Own Worst Enemy” lopes along at a nice mid-tempo beat while thick layers of snarling guitars and distinctive bursts of harmonica infuse the driving “Gypsy Biker”.
This is the sound of a great band working as a mighty, unbeatable unit and that’s more than cool to be sure.
Things lighten up a bit with the wall of sound paean to “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” and the relatively jaunty “I’ll Work for Your Love” (the apocalyptic references to the book of Revelation and “the dust of civilizations” making that “jaunty” comment refer to the music and definitely not the lyrics.)
The title track is a brooding rumination while “Last to Die” rocks hard but is decidedly acerbic lyrically. “Long Walk Home” (see video below) with its lacerating guitars and classic sax solo is a cautiously optimistic rocker that soars along relentlessly while the closing “Devil’s Arcade” builds from a whisper to thick crescendo of guitars and strings and then back to a whisper and up again to stunning effect.
Magic is, crankiness and all, a great record plain and simple.