The Boss' latest: nostalgic but fresh

By Sam Robertson

When Bruce Springsteen released “Born to Run” in 1975, he appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek on the same day and was widely anointed as the savior of rock and roll. Springsteen followed “Born to Run” with other colossal albums such as “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “The River,” and “Born in the U.S.A.” Selling over 15 million copies and having 7 songs make the top ten hit singles, “Born in the U.S.A.” was by far the most successful album of Springsteen’s career, and one of the best selling albums of all time. The tour accompanying the album lasted nearly a year and a half, went all the way around the world, and catapulted Springsteen to a rock god plateau that few have reached. At the end of the tour, Springsteen shocked the world by dissembling the E-Street Band and shunning the spotlight. Springsteen has released seven studio albums since his “Born in the U.S.A.” popularity peak, but none of them have had the grand, exuberant, hopeful sound that defined Springsteen in his prime. Although “Magic” hasn’t had quite as much fanfare surrounding it as “Born to Run” did when it was released thirty years ago, with his new album Springsteen is announcing that he’s ready to take up the reigns that he deserted twenty years ago. The album opens up with “Radio Nowhere,” probably the hardest rocking song Springsteen has recorded since “Born in the U.S.A.” On the surface, it’s just a catchy song lamenting the lack of good rock and roll music on the radio – a terrible, cheesy topic. But Springsteen can get away with it. The song seems to be a tribute to Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” period, with loud guitars, crashing drums, and even lines like “Dancin’ down a dark hole” and “I was driving through the misty rain,” which eerily recall the songs “Dancing in the Dark” and “Downbound Train” from that album. To top it all off, the song features a perfect, albeit brief saxophone solo from E-Street Band member Clarence Clemons, something that has been sorely missing from Springsteen’s recent albums. “Radio Nowhere” is not a perfect song, nor is it even one of the best on the album. But the song has everything that Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band are about and shows that the boys are back with a bang.

As he uses “Radio Nowhere” to lament the state of rock radio, he uses “Magic” to improve the state of rock radio. Albums like “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”; while not concept albums, did have common themes linking all the songs. On “Born to Run” Springsteen captured the magic of youth and sang about hope, love, adventure, and dreams. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” followed a lengthy, ugly legal battle between Springsteen and his former manager, and is full of bitter songs about regret and broken dreams. There is no such underlying theme in “Magic,” Springsteen just mixes a little bit of everything together. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” a clear standout on “Magic,” features lyrics that sound right out of “Thunder Road” sung perfectly by Springsteen over a catchy, pleasant acoustic guitar. The best thing about the song is not it’s perfect musical structure, nor it’s typically brilliant Springsteen lyrics. The most impressive thing is that Springsteen is still a teenager at heart. Despite approaching sixty, Springsteen still sings with the hope and optimism that he did thirty years ago and still sounds sincere about everything he sings.

The album is a very nostalgic trip for Springsteen, and despite numerous nods to his past, it retains a fresh, energetic, new sound. For example, “I’ll Work For Your Love” opens with a piano intro nearly identical to his old classic, “Jungleland,” but soon veers off that pace into a short, catchy rock and roll song. The same thing happens with “Livin’ in the Future” which slightly resembles “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” with it’s funky, Clarence Clemons dominated opening. “Gypsy Biker” is almost like “Born in the U.S.A.” grown up, matured, less exuberant, and harder for a President to misinterpret so badly into a campaign song. “Long Walk Home” is “My Hometown” with more of a subtle political commentary. However, “Devil’s Arcade,” the centerpiece of the album, is a slow, acoustic song with mysterious lyrics and is a nice change of pace from the upbeat rock of the rest of the album. “Long Walk Home,” “Devil’s Arcade,” and “Terry’s Song” combine to close out the album on a depressing, but fulfilling note.

When a lot of “classic rock” bands release new albums these days, they sound like a tribute band to their former selves. Despite heavy similarities to his past, Springsteen does not sound like a shell of his former self. He still sounds young, fresh, powerful, and original. “Magic” is not the best album of Bruce Springsteen’s career, it is not essential listening, but it is Bruce Springsteen doing what he does best, and all of his fans will love it.