Everyone is waiting for that next great, classic album from The Boss. When The Rising arrived, everyone applied the next ‘great one’ to that album.
The anticipation and the pre-album release buzz of Magic, the cry was the same. Masterpiece! Classic! Dancing in the streets!
Admittedly, Magic is in possession of several strong tracks, the best being “Long Walk Home.” This is the only song on the album that re-introduces us to the greatness of Bruce Springsteen in that it is the only song that he genuinely connects to us with. It’s a heartfelt song on the loss of our identity and sense of belonging in the place where we grew up. Anyone who has gone back home after an extended absence only to find that the town has lost its vibrancy, becoming unrecognizable and sad, a location of nostalgia rather than a fount of strength, will feel the poignancy of this song. This is Bruce, the one who speaks to his audience, sharing their despair and such.
Magic starts off with a bang on “Radio Nowhere,” the christened first single. “Radio Nowhere” doesn’t have the energy and passion of anything on Born to Run or Darkness but it is a better musical assessment of empty content spilling out of media dispensers than say, “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” was. It does have a certain something. But what happens when you have a strong track that has a potential to be much more…but isn’t? “Your Own Worst Enemy” feels like it has power at its core but as it presently is, it is an underdeveloped song that could have been as perfect a passionate tune as Springsteen can create.
The rest of the album loses its sparkle rather quickly even if some of the songs are good. “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” snuggles up to an earlier E Street song, “Human Touch.” “I’ll Work for Your Love” really does remind – albeit briefly – of “Thunder Road.” “Livin’ In the Future” is an interesting track full of party and fun Clemons saxophone and the album’s title track, “Magic,” has sparks running through and around it. The rest are average tunes.
Springsteen’s best work sprang deeply from his accumulated personal angst. As success found Springsteen, it slowly dampened the fire that infinitely underscores those early classics. I have nothing against success or Bruce Springsteen’s success; I just mourn the loss of passion, as Springsteen’s power lay in his concentrated, pent-up anger. Right now, and for some time, Bruce just can’t convince me that he is pissed. Need proof? Listen to “Streets of Fire” with its lean and mean production and his heart coming up through his vocal chords, and then compare it to anything on Magic, with its thicker sound and I bet that you’ll concede the point. Do the same with “Backstreets.” But regardless, herein lays an argument best left for an essay or discussion, and I certainly welcome the discussion.
As I move through the tracks, a sense of sadness overcomes me as I realize that Springsteen’s classics (easily the first 4 but surely Born to Run, and Darkness on the Edge of Town) will likely be his only. The fire that built those early albums, particularly Born to Run, and Darkness, and…ok, one-half of The River, to a lesser extent, is extinguished. And I have to accept that. That makes Magic listenable, even enjoyable, but only that.
Magic is, at best, an average Springsteen and The E Street Band album. Of course, there are hints of former glories in the songs but, just as The Rising is all but forgotten in the Springsteen catalogue (do you REALLY still play it…really?), Magic will soon be gathering some of that same dust.