Does Springsteen Still Have Some Magic?

One of my favorite albums of this decade (yes, I’m old, I still call them albums) was Bruce Springsteen and E-Street Band’s album The Rising.  Released at the end of 2001 and written largely in response to and in reflection of the attacks on September 11th, the songs weren’t merely about sadness or rage, but captured resilience in the face of tragedy and how life (and we) endure – even capture joy in the wake of such events.  It is really remarkable.

Last week, Bruce (with the E-Street Band) released Magic — their first album since The Rising. (Since 2001, Bruce had released both a solo album and a compilation of Americana, neither with the E-Street Band.)

Upon first listening, I was reminded of Born in the USA – mostly upbeat tempos, nothing very somber or serious.  It seemed like their first real attempt at a “popular” music sound in a long time.  Catchy stuff.

One of the thing that struck me about The Rising was that it contained a lot of somber-sounding songs that managed to be able to convey strength, joy, and resilience.  Digging deeper into Magic, you realize its sort of the same idea, but in reverse.  These happy-sounding songs convey a sense of weariness, cynicism and frustration.  Its such an inversion, that I thought the album ought to be entitled The Falling.  One of my favorite songs is "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" which describes a nearly down-and-out guy about to go out on a big night…

Downtown the stores alight
As the evening's underway
Things been a little tight
But I know they're gonna turn my way

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

– the wistful description of the girls and that they “pass him by” captures the juxtaposition of a cheery tune with the underlying sense of something lost.

Most of the frustration is squarely aimed at the Bush Administration.  In the title track, a carnival magician is pretty easy metaphor for W (or Rove, or Gonzalez , or Cheney – take your pick)

I got a shiny saw blade (a shiny saw blade)
All I need's a volunteer
I'll cut you in half
While you're smilin' ear to ear
And the freedom that you sought's
Driftin' like a ghost amongst the trees
This is what will be
This is what will be (this is what will be)

Of course, occasionally, he drops the need for metaphor altogether as on the song "Last to Die", which is a bit heavy-handed.

Who'll be the last to die for a mistake
The last to die for a mistake
Whose blood will spill, whose heart will break
Who'll be the last to die for a mistake

Generally, I think Bruce is better at conveying the joy, angst and contradictions of personal relationships rather than “concept” songs.  Overall, I’ve enjoyed the album quite a bit, and there a couple of gems – ones that really do capture that personal feeling – that will go into heavy rotation on my playlists. 

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3 thoughts on “Does Springsteen Still Have Some Magic?

  1. Haven't listened to Magic yet but (now don't hold this against me Steve!!) I thought The Rising was terrible. Sorry!!…:) I would never abandon Springsteen completely but like so many artists I think his best is behind him. I'm curious to hear the new album but am being a bit cautious after The Rising and not buying it right away.

  2. sdede2 — no worries — I know a lot of people that didn't like The Rising. I think it connected with some people and didn't with others. I always find it fascinating to watch an artist change over time. Springsteen did such a great job of channeling youthful energy, anger, fear, and optimism in his early stuff. As he's gotten older, he's gotten more cynical and melancholy (like a lot of us).
    I don't know if anything ever matches up to the anthems of youth.

  3. The album I beliee is better than the Rising, thats not to say that The Rising wasn't a good album. This one just feels a tad more coherent. Long Walk Home and I'll work for your love are my key tracks, with Terry's Song being the ideal closer.

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