CD Review of Magic by Bruce Springsteen
Recommended if you like
Bruce Goddamn Springsteen
Label
Sony BMG
Bruce Springsteen: Magic

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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t’s an immutable law of rock criticism that any halfway decent new release by a major veteran artist must be greeted with reviews containing one or all of the following:

1. Nine-tenths unequivocal adulation, one-tenth meaningless caveats

2. Undeserved digs at more recent releases in the artist’s catalog

3. At least one “it’s his/her/their best album since ______” declaration

Given that Magic is being counted on to save Sony BMG’s fiscal year – and given that he’s Bruce goddamn Springsteen – you’re going to read a lot of all of the above in the next few weeks, and not without reason. For instance, as much as you might be tempted to believe otherwise, this really is Springsteen’s best record in 20 years; perhaps more importantly, it’s the first E Street Band album to really sound like one since Born in the U.S.A. (Of course, this only means it sounds more like the E Street Band’s work than The Rising, but whatever – this has still been a long time coming.)

Still, hard as it might be to make the effort, Magic deserves to be heard on its own merits – absent the weighty context of Springsteen’s other albums – if for no other reason than it’s so friggin’ good. Even if you didn’t grow up worshiping at the Altar of the Boss, it’s nigh impossible to hear the album’s first big Clarence Clemons sax break (for the record, it’s on the second track, “You’ll Be Coming Down”) without breaking into a Cheshire grin. And as tempting as it is to dismiss all the constant hand-wringing over rock’s demise as mere doomsaying, it’s impossible to deny that nobody’s making albums that sound like this anymore.

Specifically speaking, “this” is a bright, brassy wall of thunderous rock & roll, all hearts on sleeves and barbed guitars; one long, open-throated wail for salvation in 4/4 time. And putting things back in context – you knew that whole “on its own merits” thing wouldn’t last, right? – this is the Bruce we know and love: Hearts are won and lost, lives broken and redeemed, and a baleful, defiant gaze is turned steadily on those in power. It’s as satisfying as it sounds.

For Bruce fans who haven’t spent the last two decades pining for that E Street sound to make a comeback, Magic might not prove quite as thirst-quenching a thrill, but it’s still another shot to the body from the reigning practitioner of the art form. The last few years have seen Springsteen toss off the shackles of perfectionism and finally get down to the business of embodying that pure rock & roll joy he’s always loved singing about; even if Magic was only his best album since last year, it’d still be a noteworthy achievement in a career full of them. Buy it, turn it up, and repeat as necessary.

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