The title says it all – Bruce Springsteen’s new album is magic. It is vibrant, loud, energetic, exuberant, catchy and as good as one can expect from the Boss. It is undeniably cutting-edge, particularly in terms of the mixing and guitar distortion, although at times you may wish that the guitars – especially the rhythm guitars – were quieter, so you could hear more the album’s more subtle touches.
In fact, this album’s trademark is its brilliant inclusion of delicate instrumental arrangements, albeit using instruments that tend to be pushed farther in the background than on other Bruce albums like Born to Run and The Wild, the Innocent & the E-Street Shuffle. Despite this difference, there are still plenty of songs on Magic that recall the E Street Band at its best.
Bruce himself is at his best when he juxtaposes loud, heartfelt rocking music with passionate lyrics and heartfelt narratives. That element is felt on Magic in tracks like “You’ll Be Coming Down,” where it works very well. The album contains many elements that Bruce Springsteen has used before – and very well. There are intros that foreshadow the melodies and the feel of the upcoming song, such as in “Your Own Worst Enemy.” There is the juxtaposition of lyrics and music, as in “You’ll Be Coming Down” and “Radio Nowhere.” And there are the catchy melodies of “I’ll Work for Your Love” and “Livin’ in the Future” that take an edge off the emotionally intense lyrics.
While this album marks Bruce’s reunion with the E Street Band, it keeps its songs shorter than most of the legendary collaboration’s efforts. The longest song on Magic is “Devil’s Arcade,” clocking in at 5:20. Magic’s characters are also less grand than anything pre-Darkness on the Edge of Town.
In the end, Magic brings the best elements from both early and later Springsteen. And, after the absence of the E Street Band from his most recent studio albums, it is very welcome to hear Bruce return to the pervasive use of Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, guitars that talk back to the music and the kind of musical depth that one expects from the E Street band as led by the Boss.
Magic also has some surprisingly Mick Jagger-esque backing vocals that give this album more depth than Jagger himself achieved on the most recent Stones album. And, like Jagger, Bruce Springsteen has kept his voice in very good shape for his age, sounding much better than Roger Daltrey and Bob Dylan. His range seems slightly lower, but his inflection, presentation, careful thought, backing vocals and energy make his singing shine throughout the album. Even if his range has regressed slightly, it does not detract from the album in any way.
This album is not Springsteen’s best work, but it is probably the most aptly titled album released this year, because any time you combine the Boss and the legendary E Street Band, the result can never be anything less than magic.
4 out of 5 stars.