19 November 2007

Bruce Springsteen's New Album: "Magic"

Left to Right: Gary Tallent, Bruce Springsteen, and "Little Steven" Van Zant, November 2007
Landover, Maryland

I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band live, for the first times, in 1978 -- twice on the Darkness on the Edge of Town tour, once in New Orleans and once in St. Petersburg, Florida. At both gigs he and his Jersey-shore band mates cranked out more rock n' fire, laced with burning lead licks from Bruce and gospel/exorcist vocals aflame with intensity. I remember thinking at the time, "How can one little man in a spotlight do that?!"

Gospel wisdom? "It was too many for me." (--from S. L. Clemens)

I never fully recovered; my life-long devotion to guitar rock was now set in granite. If below, I slip into praise of Bruce Springsteen's new album without having listened to it enough to comprehend it, please think of it as a recurring rock critic sin.

Magic is Springsteen's first new studio album of original Springsteen cuts since 2005's Devils & Dust. Rolling Stone magazine gave this new album 5 out of 5 stars, a reviewer's nightmare. What do you write about a record already labelled an "instant classic". (But make your own call, you can hear all the album cuts, in their entirety, at the link that follows.) In his review of Magic for RollingStone.com, David Fricke gets a B in handling his task. He writes in part:
.... Magic is, in one way, the most openly nostalgic record Springsteen has ever made. The arrangements, the performances and Brendan O’Brien’s wall-of-surf production are mined with echoes and near-direct quotes of classic records, including Springsteen’s: the early-Sixties beach-radio bounce of “Girls in Their Summer Clothes‚” the overcast-Pet Sounds orchestration of “Your Own Worst Enemy”, the “Jungleland” ring of Roy Bittan’s piano rainfall in “I’ll Work for Your Love.” “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” sounds like it strutted over from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. “Livin’ in the Future” is “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” with a new, thick coat of twang and a full tank of lust. [Emphasis and link added] ....
Bruce reinventing old material here is good news for fans; more importantly, he is showing his commitment to personal artistic evolution. Dylan has been doing this very thing, reinventing his old songs, whenever he's stepped on a stage for 45 years. Reworking songs is one of Springsteen's great contributions to the against-the-tide view that "rock n' roll-can-save-the-world".

The distinctive love-story metaphor and mandolins on the title track are irresistible. Roy Bittan's piano into on I'll Work For Your Love is reminiscent of Bittan's masterful, delicate power on Dire Straits' 1980 Making Movies. It's clear that the deep album cuts on Magic show Springsteen bringing new colors to his music and poetry.

True renaissance in rock music today is all too rare. The last time I heard Bruce do this in the studio is his acoustic version of the song "Born in the U.S.A." It's only when the wall of guitars and rhythm section are taken away that the despair of the verses and the sometimes-tragic redemption of the chorus are revealed. (Note: the two rockers I interviewed for this post turned out not to be Springsteen fans, but both cited the album Born in the U.S.A. as their touchstone with his work.)

One final point regarding the opening cut, Radio Nowhere. Rolling Stone critic Fricke gets it just right:
"... A thousand guitars . . . pounding drums," [Springsteen] demands against the racing squall of his band. But “Radio Nowhere” is actually about how we speak and listen to each other through the murk -- "Is there anybody alive out there?” he growls, over and over --and how a firm beat, some Telecaster sting and the robust peal of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone can still tell you more about the human condition than a thousand op-ed words. ....
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are at the head of the class in helping us understand the human condition with "a thousand guitars" rather that 10,000 news analysis essays. It's no accident that

So let Bruce work his electric-Woody-Guthrie-heir Magic. Why, a skeptic might ask? Just one pearl of an example:

... Well the cops finally busted Madame Marie
For tellin' fortunes better than they do.
This boardwalk life for me is through.
You know you ought to quit this scene too. ...


Paco Malo said...

Jimbo writes, via email:

"Nicely done! I saw Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce on the current Magic Tour in Philly… As has been my experience over these past 30+ years, full appreciation and enjoyment of the Boss’s studio albums come after seeing/hearing him perform the material live. The man is simply hardwired to the best impulses and searching questions within us all."

Ramona said...

Paco Malo is a hell of a writer, and getting better with every post. Also, he is much cheaper than Rolling Stone....

I'm so glad that there isn't the fluff and commercialism to deal with on the Bluenote. I get the majority of my of my musical updates from these great posts. Thanks for keeping my love of new and old music fresh.

Paco Malo said...

Thanks Ramona,

You're an inspiration.

Anything you'd like to see a post on?


Paullinator said...

One thing about the Boss is that just about everyone is willing to chime in with a story, a comment, or a nod of the head. Sheer inspiration is what he brings to all of us.

A nostalgia album -- reminds me of a recent other similar type of release from U2 - which brings to mind what he said in inducting them to the hall of fame.


"Well...there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things -- I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years (laughter) and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys!

Oh, my God! They sold out!

Now...what I know about the iPod is this: It is a device that plays music. Of course their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily. Smart. Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. (laughter) You can see my problem. Woe is me. "

Paco Malo said...

You can check out the punch line of the iPod commercial story Bruce tells at the URL provided by the Paullinator above, or wait for the full text of the speech to appear in a post here at Gold Coast Bluenote soon.

Penny said...

Oh, I remember I couldn't wait for Magic to be published!
But when I listened to it, I had the feeling that Bruce keep on singing the same songs... I thought that he's keeping to repeat himself.
I'm a huge fan of him, but I have to say that I liked "Devils and dust" far better than "Magic".

Anyway, I've to say that I really love your writing!COmpliments! And I have to agree with you: live Bruce is one of the most powerful thing ever!!!

Penny (Viola)

Paco Malo said...


I must agree "Devils and Dust", both the song and the album, are spectacular. Thank you for your comment.

Paco (Jim)