‘Is there anybody alive out there?’ asks Bruce Springsteen in ‘Radio Nowhere,’ the adrenaline-fueled first single off his new album ‘Magic.’
In an age when mainstream radio is a sonic wasteland polluted by vapid, one-note songstresses and glammed-up emo bands, Springsteen has crafted an album oozing with the passion and urgency of great rock-and-roll that only an inspired few can deliver.
‘Magic’ is arguably the most straight-ahead rock-and-roll record Springsteen has made in the last 30 years. Echoes of Springsteen’s early work abound: the funk-inflected ‘Livin’ in the Future’ recalls ‘Tenth Avenue.’
Freeze-Out,’ and Roy Bittan’s sweet, cascading piano that opens ‘I’ll Work For Your Love’ is reminiscent of ‘Born To Run’s’ epic closing track ‘Jungleland.’ The E. Street Band is in fine form here. Fans of saxophonist Clarence Clemons can rejoice in knowing that The Big Man is a much greater presence on the new album than he was on 2002s Grammy winning ‘The Rising,’ a presence that contributes significantly to classic E. Street sound of ‘Magic.’ Also notable is Max Weinberg’s drumming, particularly on the album’s more high-energy cuts.
If there is a single thread that runs through the album from start to finish, it is Springsteen’s masterful lyric writing.
As a socially conscious artist, the words that flow from Springsteen’s pen reflect the nature of the times. Most of the lyrical subject matter on ‘Magic’ is very political, focusing on, though not explicitly referencing, the war in Iraq.
The propulsive rocker ‘Last To Die’ features the lines, ‘We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore / We just stack the bodies outside the door.’
Disheartened by the present state of affairs in the Middle East, Springsteen calls attention to the American flag and the values and principles for which it stands for. The string-laden, Beach Boys-inspired ‘Your Own Worst Enemy’ ends with the image of a flag flying so high that it disappears into the blue, its very existence left in doubt.
‘Devil’s Arcade’ is a final meditation on the plight of the soldier, from dealing with injuries incurred in the line of duty, to feelings of intense yearning for the comforts of home and the loving embrace of friends and family.
In addition to myriad references to the Iraq War, ‘Magic’ is rife with apocalyptic imagery: ships sailing into blood red horizons, seas rising toward the sun and cities burning to the ground.
The eerie title track paints a troubling picture of things to come, Springsteen whispering lines about hell on earth over a bed of mandolin, violin and hypnotic percussion.
Even the album cover suggests that the end may be near: Springsteen’s stern expression, his face partially shrouded in darkness, and his body fading into a bleak, white unknown.
There is a ray of hope, however. On the hidden track ‘Terry’s Song,’ Springsteen mourns the death of Terry Magovern, his long-time friend and assistant of 23 years.
His voice, complimented only on acoustic guitar, Springsteen sings, ‘Love is a power greater than death,’ reminding us that, though we live in dire and uncertain times, the mysterious force of love is powerful enough to surmount any obstacle.
‘Magic’ is a masterpiece, an excellent addition to an already stellar catalog of music that spans nearly four decades. But Springsteen solidified his place in rock music history over 30 years ago with ‘Born To Run.’
So what does this almost 60-year-old rocker have to prove? Nothing. That’s where the beauty lies. It is within Springsteen’s genetic make-up to create, which is the mark of a true artist. And as a music aficionado who is frustrated with the garbage on the radio today, I have only five words: Thank God for Bruce Springsteen.