Now approaching 60, Bruce Springsteen is arguably one of the artists of the current decade, after a fairly lean patch in the 90s, and is, in my opinion, producing the finest work of his career since pre Born In The USA.
2002's The Rising, Springsteen's superb post 9/11 commentary through the eyes of individual characters, was followed by the low key acoustic Devils And Dust, the joyously exuberant 'Seeger Sessions' album of folk songs, and now this, a vintage Bruce rock n roll album with the full E Street band in fine from.
There are echoes of his previous work all over this album, right back from the Born To Run days, through to The River, Nebraska and Born In The USA, and yet none of it sounds dated, or like treading over old ground. Both his voice and the band's sound have matured, and become more finely tuned. Gone are the occasional tendencies towards chesse and slight lack of quality control that characterised some of his old hits with the E Street band, there is a remarkable consistency here. Some other reviewers have complained about the production, but I like the slightly rough, raw feel, it suits his music better than the over polished glossy sound on Born In The USA, and is more like the sound of his early albums.
As usual, Bruce proves once again to be one of the finest lyricists of his generation, with a mixture of the personal, political and observational.
Two of the album's finest tracks deal in different ways with Iraq, Last To Die is the most overtly political rallying cry 'we don't measure the blood we've drawn anymore/ we just stack the bodies outside the door/ Who'll be the last to die for a mistake'
Even more effective, is Devils Arcade. Characteristically for Bruce, as he did so brilliantly on The Rising, commenting on events through the eyes of an individual, this song takes the role of someone who has lost a loved one in the conflict, and is deeply moving. Its a song which doesn't go for overkill, but is more powerful by the calm dignified delivery which makes it truly poignant. This is followed up by the 'hidden track' Terrys Song, a deeply personal tribute to Bruce's friend Terry Magovern, who passed away this year, which manages to be affectionate and a little humourous, without over sentimentality.
Musically, there is a more energetic upbeat feel to the majority of the rest of the album though, with a more guitar heavy sound than we have heard from Bruce for some time, backed by the familiar bursts of sax from big Clarence Clemons and organ from Roy Bittan, with Max Weinberg's pounding drums evident right from the storming opener Radio Nowhere.
There is a world weariness in many of the songs themselves though, and a middle aged wisdom. You'll Be Comin Down sounds like it could have been recorded for The River, but the words 'you'll be fine as long as your pretty face holds out/ then its gonna get pretty cold out' speak of the elusive passing of youth. The excellent Girls in Their Summer Clothes tells of a middle aged man with a broken heart wistfully watching the girls now beyond his reach.
So far only the title track and the slightly workmanlike I'll Work For Your Love have failed to have much of an impact on me.
Overall this is a terrific continuation of The Boss' fine 00s form, with top quality songwriting, great backing from the E Street band and Bruce himself in fine voice.
Magic. Has he still got it? You bet.
It's actually tempting to turn things around with this collection and say it's good to see the E Street Band making another record, and what a good idea it was to invite this guy Springsteen along. After all, some of their best stuff has been with him...
But it's certainly good to see Bruce making a record with these guys again. Devils & Dust was a great solo effort, but the other release I've purchased since The Rising was Live In Dublin, which I found thoroughly disposable.
The day Magic was released, ESPN used snatches as linkages on their Monday Night Football coverage. That kind of sums up the muscular, blue collar feel of some, though not all, of the material. And it's the E Street Band that provide the muscle, and none less than Clarence Clemons, who gets plenty of opportunity to inject testosterone-fuelled breaks.
While this is recognisably the Boss, though, I'm baffled by the folks who believe the tracks could have slotted into the classic seventies and eighties albums. While there's one nod to the intro to Thunder Road - the opening piano on I'll Work For Your Love - and Long Walk Home has the melancholy vocals characteristic of Tunnel Of Love, this is 21st Century Springsteen, and would sound very out of place anywhere else other than maybe the second disc had The Rising been a double.
Radio Nowhere opens the set in robust style, lamenting the musical desert of the airwaves - no way does Mary from Thunder Road dance while the radio plays in this world.
Gypsy Biker finds Bruce back on the road; not sure what it's about - some kind of homecoming - but I'll bet there's no shortage of Angels willing to adopt it as an anthem.
Girls In Their Summer Clothes reveals a sense of longing, a wistful paean to the subject by someone for whom the time for hanging on the boardwalk has passed. But there's no harm in getting nostalgic for your teens!
Last To Die has to be my favourite song, with its apocalyptic lyric reminiscent of Evanescence's "holding my last breath". It begins with an affective, addictive theme, and careers along in front of a relentless driving riff.
Devil's Arcade is straight off The Rising, and has an excellent backing arrangement of strings. Superficially you could say there's a similarity there to Jungle Land - by which stretch of the imagination you could also file this on the same shelf as Vivaldi.
The album closes with a song dedicated to the late Terry Magovern. It's a throwaway, probably composed in five minutes knowing Springsteen's ability to knock stuff out, but it's touching all the same.
The whole thing is a testament to why Springsteen is good, but best when with the E Street crew.
on 29 September 2007
I can only echo all the postive reviews elsewhere on Amazon - I've just listened to this for the third time since downloading it today and it's clear that this is a truly wonderful return to form for Springsteen. I'm a lifelong fan, but I have to admit I didn't care much for his folky Seeger sessions stuff. This goes back to what he does best, upbeat, melodic rock with great lyrics and that unmistakable "Boss" sound. It's more immediate than The Rising (which I rated his best since Darkness), and a highlight for me is the way they've let the Big Man (Clarence Clemons)loose with his sax on a few songs, especially "You'll be coming down" , "Living in the Future" and "Long Walk Home". Just a joy to hear that sax belting out, but I wish they'd really give him a long solo again like on Junglelands. My favourite tracks hasgot be Girls In Summer Clothes - I deny anyone not to be captivated by the opening 30 seconds - pure wall of sound with the 12 string guitars and one of Springsteens best melodies ever. I'll Work For Your Love and Your Own Worst Enemy are close seconds in the favourite stakes.
Not a duff track on this set at all, The Boss shows all the rest how to produce a well-crafted rock album. Don't listen to anyone who says its tired or boring - they ain't got a clue.
Buy it, crank up the volume, and fall in love with Springsteen all over again.
I was listening to and fully appreciating a Bruce Springsteen 'best of' on a train, on the way home, a few months ago. Although I've liked Bruce's music for a number of years, it is only quite recently that his music has really started speaking to me on an emotional level, namely his brilliant talent for finding beauty and grandeur in everyday occurrences and problems. With a new-found love for Springsteen, I decided that I wanted to hear more of Bruce's work and so, when I got home, did a search for his albums on amazon. The first album on the list was Magic, which I'd read good things about, but when I explored the user reviews on amazon and read so many great things about this album, I decided to give it a go. To be honest, I wasn't expecting anything too special as much of Springsteen's recent work, although very good, had been quite mellow.
On the first listen, it took hold of me straight away. This wasn't just good, it was sensational. The kind of music you want to tell everyone about, songs you want to burn onto CDs and give to all of your friends and family - songs you want to play over and over again. Magic is a phenomenal piece of work, absolutely bursting with life, passion and all of the elements that made Bruce and the E Street Band so essential during their 70s & 80s peak. Nearly every song on this album could easily have been a single. There are half a dozen tracks here which are amongst Bruce's very best songs and are shoe-ins for the next 'best of' compilations - or at least they should be.
Magic has a huge sound - guitars, drums, pianos, organs, glockenspiels, saxophones, harmonicas and much, much more all mixed together in a heady, intoxicating cocktail of almost pure rock 'n' roll. Radio Nowhere is a storming first track, a rabble-rousing ode to rock, followed by the majestic You'll Be Coming Down, a big mid-tempo song in the classic E Street tradition with a sax solo to die for. Livin' In The Future continues the trend of consecutive brilliance with a beat and song reminiscent of U2's Angel Of Harlem - only better. Strings give Your Own Worst Enemy, a song which succeeds in sounding perfect without really ever moving out of first gear, a very full and classy feel and the howling harmonica of the excellent Gypsy Biker provides an early glimpse of the bluesy, gritty brilliance of the song, which boasts a truly fantastic guitar solo.
The next track, Girls In Their Summer Clothes is, for me, the standout on what is an almost consistently superb album, and is almost up there with Born To Run as my favourite Bruce Springsteen song ever. Every time I hear it, I involuntarily smile, my heart starts to swell with joy and I can't help but sing along - it's just such an amazing song, full of gorgeous melody and everyday imagery. Bruce makes you feel as if you don't need anything apart from your health, the sun on your back, a cheap meal from Frankie's Diner and to just hang out watching the world go by. He does something very special, musically, towards the end of the track, as well, which elevates the song, quite literally, into the realms of genius.
Cascading pianos introduce a great straight-talking rock number next, the wonderful I'll Work For Your Love, an unabashed piece of lyrically-rich romanticism. After such enjoyable bombast, Magic is a huge contrast, a delicate and rather beautiful piece despite the rather dark and almost sinister lyrics. Last To Die and Long Walk Home are both great, catchy rock songs which could easily been standout tracks on any of Bruce's lesser works and the penultimate song, Devil's Arcade is a majestic, bittersweet love song right up there with some of Bruce's best moments. The final track, Terry's Song (actually untitled on the album cover) is a touching tribute to a departed friend and brings this stunning album to a respectfully low-key close.
Lyrically and musically brilliant, this magnificent album combines the rare combination of maturity and excitement. The E Street band don't just successfully recapture the glories of their youth, they are now writing new chapters of their 'Glory Days'. I would urge anyone with even a passing interest in the work of Bruce Springsteen to get a copy of Magic - it's aptly titled.
on 22 October 2007
Magic is the follow up to 2002's the rising.
While the Rising was Bruce's answer to the shocking events of 9/11, Magic is where the US is 5 years later.
A land of children coming home in body bags, where the people are increasingly alienated from the Government and where the American dream is still a dream.
Springsteen has produced a remarkable record. Springsteen's greatest lyrics have always been up front and straight to the point. However Magic changes his formula with twists and hidden meanings jumping out at you during the 6th listen.
While the songs all sound like the Boss, many of them could have been written by others..
"I'll work for your love" could be a Shane McGowan at his best mixing hard drinking with catholic imagery, "Last to die" is a song Morrissey could have written with Billy Bragg, and "Your Own Worse Enemy" is what you would get had John Lennon been born in California and met Brian Wilson rather than Macca.
If this is not enough to make you want to buy the record there is one stand out track of pure Genius.
Magic the title track is a gem of a song, it could only be written by Springsteen. Magic talks about a trickster, whom I suspect is the good ole Texan in the white house. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but springsteen unlike any other great artist of his era (Dylan, Bowie, Macartney etc..) he seems to be incapable of making a anything but a great record.
My only grumble is I can't buy tickets for his forthcoming shows in the UK..And this album has made me all the more anxious for missing out.
on 21 October 2007
I refrained from succumbing to the obvious and calling this album "magical" in the title, but it's actually not far off. I was worried for a little while that we'd lost Bruce Springsteen to country/folk side projects and overly Bob Dylan-esque pursuits, as "Devils and Dust" and "The Seeger Sessions" certainly appeared to be heading down that route.
It is therefore with a very happy heart that I assure you that Bruce is back, and is steering clear of his last two releases. This album "Magic" is, in my opinion, 2 parts 'The Rising', 1 part "Darkness On The Edge Of Town", with a small splash of the optimism and fun of "Born To Run" and the occasional solemnity of "Nebraska". Basically, it's high energy rock with a meaningful side, but which knows how to have a lot of fun while never ignoring the darker side of things. Even more basic than that, it's just a good, fun album. I noticed that other reviews mentioned the word "fun" and I'd agree. The beat is almost always pulsing and you don't feel that there was a dull moment making this. Lyrically, "Gypsy Biker" and "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" are vintage Springsteen; reminiscent of his "Darkness" album in the 70s, something innocent but very adult in nature at the same time. It's hard to ignore the close relationship to "The Rising" though. More hard rock than reflective rock, the atmosphere feels very similar in some songs, and on the very first listen I found myself disappointed that it was, in fact, just 'The Rising' again. But it really is more than that and by the third listen all this has opened up to you. I've heard this is the last Springsteen (or at least & East Street Band) album, and so I'm hugely pleased that he is closing down his recording on such a high note. And it certainly is a high note.
Any drawbacks? Maybe the production is a bit repetitive. Several songs are certainly similar in rhythm, tone, and vocals, the vocals often lapsing into slight drawling as he is wont to do. However, these two drawbacks are tiny in comparison to all the major bonus points of this album. It is, simply put, a return to form and a great rock 'n' roll album that shouldn't be missed at any cost, especially for a current Springsteen fan. Value for money, satisfaction, and enjoyment guaranteed for maybe one of the last Bruce Springsteen & The East Street Band albums ever!
I am a Springsteen fan, a completist and I think that this album stands alongside any of his not inconsiderable back catalogue. A genuine all killer no filler album. Some less charitable magazine reviews bemoan the mix of the folky troubadour Bruce and the E Street band backed "Cool Rockin' Daddy" Bruce. I prefer to consider this as welcome variety. This album has loads of variety, perhaps the best and most varied musically since the River.
Some tracks are instantly recogniseable as the Boss in harness with the E Street band, but make no mistake this never descends as it so easily could into pastiche. The subject matter is as varied as the music.
The well played (on Radio 2 anyway) Radio Nowhere opens the set with a punch, a good if unspectacular rocker, the lyrics do however measure up. This is followed by a number of songs which are among his finest. My favourites being Gypsy Biker and the beautiful Girls in Their Summer Clothes, traditional pre politicised songs which nod to their creators past and his influences. The political Bruce stand out is Last to Die, a great song with as pithy a lyric as anything on Devils and Dust.
Whilst there is much to enjoy in this album there is the niggling matter of Brendan O'Brien's production, it is not as engaging as The Rising. I don't really know why it just seems very " compressed" with no space between the instruments at all. Is it worth docking a star from the album of the year so far? I guess not. Perhaps this is part of my bigger bugbear with the Springsteen back catalogue which is for the most part the poorest presented of any major artist (except perhaps the Beatles which remains stymied by Apples arrogance and greed).
The Springsteen catalogue has never undergone the major remastering it is long overdue. Considering howmeticulous Bruce is about the finished product this remains a criminal oversight. Sony/CBS sort it out.
on 3 October 2007
Dashed off to the shops after work yesterday like an excited schoolboy to get the new Springsteen CD `Magic' and put it straight in the car stereo at a decent volume for the ride home! I was concerned my ridiculously high expectations wouldn't be realised, but thankfully they have been. It's Magic! Christmas has come early! Yesterday evening I thought it a very good album - but this morning's repeat listen has convinced me it is great one - probably his best `E-Street Band' album in 25 years! Here's some purely personal views of the album tracks at present:
Radio Nowhere - Probably intended as the most approachable and instant song on the album to get the airplay (and hopefully bring back his `rock 'n' roll fans), so I imagine it won't have the staying power of many of his classic tracks in the years to come - but at present I'm enjoying it as it's a hell of a powerful rocker with a real driving riff and kicks off the album's up-tempo approach well. Should be good live!
You'll Be Comin' Down - Ticks along well and probably typifies today's `E-Street Band' style the most. A solid-enough track to move the album along
Livin' in the Future - Pure `E-Street' '10th Avenue Freeze Out' time! Lovely to wallow in `that' Jersey sound after so many years!
Your Own Worst Enemy - A good enough song, but probably the least interesting track for me from the album. Slight over-use of the strings and if anything a slightly laboured vocal performance from the Boss (by his high standards), although still full of resonance.
Gypsy Biker - Awesome! Builds up wonderfully from that acoustic start and like a runaway train just keeps on building momentum. Great lyrics and what about that guitar solo!
Girls in Their Summer Clothes - A lovely track - very reminiscent of UK pop songs of the mid-1960's (i.e. Manfred Mann's Pretty Flamingo, Hollies, even Orbison-like etc.) with the wistful lyrics of an older man. The strings work much better on this one, probably because they create that 60's bubble-gum hit factory feel.
I'll Work For Your Love - Brittan's piano intro is wonderful and it takes the song into pure E-Street territory again from the early 70's (a la `Greetings....')
Magic - The album needed a more mellow `acoustic' song at this point and Bruce delivers it - giving the album the balance it needed. It'll probably be one of those tracks that will be underrated initially, but will keep its resonance for longer in the long run (the same way as the track `The River' and several from `Nebraska' still do).
Last Man to Die - This reminded me of a slightly slower version of `Roulette' (from `Tracks'). Soozie's violin works well here. There's even a touch of the `Darkness..' album in the tone of this one. The lyrics are probably the most direct ones against Bush's war (although they are there in other tracks too).
Long Walk Home - I gather this started getting tried out at the end of the `Seeger Sessions' tour, and it's got that `end of show' feel with all the band at the front with their arms around each other. A very good song that makes a strong second single with hints of `The Rising' and `Human Touch' too - helped by a good chorus.
Devil's Arcade - A real `Devils & Dust'-type epic to end it all with. Very haunting and effective with great lyrics yet again! You feel you're out there on that desert plain again.
Bonus Track - Terry's Song - An upbeat, but thoughtful acoustic-led song which actually gives the album a more positive finish (despite the subject matter) than if it had ended with the Devil's Arcade. Definitely some of the Seeger Sessions influence here.
Overall, a very consistent and energetic album which was what I really wanted to hear on this release. I really thought we might not have got such an album from him ever again (as the years roll on for him), but it looks like after the introspective `Devil's & Dust' and the refreshing folk roots of the `Seeger Sessions' - he's decided to rock again! I'll be pleased when I start just listening to it rather than trying to analyse and compare every track to previous albums, but that's all part of the fun of a new classic album at present! I think it's a nice balance between the exuberance of `Born to Run', the diversity of `The River' and the later feel of his most recent albums (such as `The Rising'), whilst avoiding the weaknesses in some of the `Human Touch'/'Lucky Town' filler tracks. In some ways it's more akin to a more up-beat `Tunnel of Love' and I understand those who are saying that much of the album would fit well amongst some of the later tracks on the `Tracks' box set.
There's no doubt that Brendan O'Brien's production re-creates some of that `Born to Run' wall-of-sound, although occasionally it can swamp some of Bruce's vocals and the individuality of the band's playing. The use of strings works reasonably well, although I don't think he wants to extend them any more. Often it is Soozie on her own that works best. I think that reading the lyrics will bring even more to the songs in the months to come and hopefully we in the UK not lucky enough to get to the London show will be able to see many of the tracks live in 2008 as he hopefully brings everyone back for a full UK tour.
It should be the Boss's biggest commercial hit for years (if there's any justice) although I'm sure there will be some shallow critics who will snipe that it's not `Nebraska' and it's too accessible, or will have wanted every track to rock at 100% - that's the music industry for you!
Well done, Bruce and the Band - with music and lyrics this good - you're still as relevant as any of today's musicians.
on 28 September 2007
This is simply the best thing Bruce Springsteen has done in years. Think of all the best bits from The Rising coupled with echoes of Lucky Town, Born To Run, Devils And Dust and Tunnel Of Love, and you just about have it. Upbeat, stirring, melodic, wistful, elegiac - there's no filler here, just a stonking great album of classic Springsteen material. Best of all is 'Long Walk Home' which is worth the price of the album alone. If you have ever had the slightest passing interest in the great man, or you are a committed lifetime fan, just buy this album. You will not be disappointed.
on 26 January 2012
This album has some great songs on it. Just hear Bruce and the ESB performing them live and you can hear that.
Unfortunately, the production here doesn't let you know that. It's another CD that's fallen foul of the dreaded compression syndrome so all the highs and lows are shunted into a narrow band and we lose any light and shade.
It's a shame. A real shame. Hope Bruce won't fall into the same trap again as he doesn't need to.