It really is “Magic”
I’ve steered clear of commenting on the new Bruce album until now, chiefly because I just haven’t had a chance to listen to it properly between the jigs and the reels of the last week or so. But after a …
I’ve steered clear of commenting on the new Bruce album until now, chiefly because I just haven’t had a chance to listen to it properly between the jigs and the reels of the last week or so. But after a couple of listens, I’ve found myself drawn back to “Magic” again and again. Be it the snatch of a lyric here or a trace of a melody there, it’s a bit like a freight train running through the middle of my head, as the man himself says, and you just can’t ignore that sort of thing.
It was Paddy McAloon who crooned that “some things hurt more, much more, than cars and girls”, but Springsteen and the cast of familiars who have populated his work from the get-go would probably beg to differ – they know that very few things hurt more than cars and girls.
Of course, cars and girls are still in the mix but they don’t dominate the story any more. As the hard-chaws, the nostalgics, the dreamers and the family men and women from the same beat which Springsteen has always patrolled have got older, cars and girls tend to slide down the list of priorities a little.
But the setting hasn’t changed. Like Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe, Springsteen knows the sounds, smells and sights of the Jersey Shoreline all too well. Down the years and throughout the back-catalogue, this sweep of real and imagined land, all those small towns with their faded grandeur and creaky boardwalks, have provided Springsteen and his characters with the dreams, hopes, doubts, desperation and defiance which have informed his best songs. Springsteen always went back for more because he knew there was always more to take from these settings and those studies. Those cars and girls will always give you more.
On “Magic”, though, there’s a sense of taking stock and Springsteen just doesn’t seem to like what he sees or hears around him. Sure, there was an anger to “The Rising”, especially when Springsteen and The E Street Band took the album on the road and let those songs construct their own codas in front of full stadiums, but it’s the fierce realisation that someone has pulled a fast one somewhere along the line which will get louder and louder on every listen.
These hints are subtle for sure, but you don’t need much help clearing the lines. After all, Springsteen’s political nous would never sit easy with the current US administration and there are a couple of pointed barbs which revisit the anger and futility which informed the non-anthemic threads of “Born in the USA”. There’s no escaping the subtext, for instance, when Springsteen sings about an election day where the skies are “gunpowder and shades of grey”. You wouldn’t need to know that he was a John Kerry man to make sense of that one.
But the more you listen, the more you realise that “Magic” really is an older and wiser brother to “Darkness on the Edge of Town”, that 1978 album when Springsteen showed he could also write about the dark stuff. The boys who were “Racing in the Street” have turned into the men who populate “Your Own Worst Enemy”, “Last To Die” and “Long Walk Home”. The smalltown dramas are still running albeit on different stages.
And The E Street Band are rocking like there’s no tomorrow. While Springsteen has had spells in the limelight since “The Rising” with “Devils & Dust” and “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”, his band have been waiting in the wings to be called back on the job and it sounds to me as if they’ve a few things to prove (and not just to The Hold Steady). Brendan O’Brien’s production is perfectly weighed too, keeping the tempo and the sonics at a fever pitch throughout.
It really is a masterful album and it’s easy to see why it has been attracting such high praise from most quarters (OK, there was a ropey review in the Sunday Business Post – then again, the CD reviews in that publication always tend to be ropey because the reviewer simply doesn’t appear to actually like music). It’s an album which shows that there’s plenty of life in those old dogs yet. Roll on Belfast in December.