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Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Label Columbia
Length: 11 tracks

The fifteenth Springsteen album is… well… Magic! Those three minute rock songs that made him his name are back in abundance, the E Street Band are struttin’ and there is a maturity about the lyrics and music that only adds to the late seventies and early eighties version. "Radio Nowhere" is as hard edged as Bruce has ever got, "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" is catchier than almost anything in the back catalogue and "Devil’s Arcade" adds a more serious atmospheric conclusion. That it has come so close on the heels of the Seeger Sessions_ project suggests a few things; Bruce is on an inspired role; he realizes that when you look into the eyes of sixty years old that you can’t take five years between releases; or that he needs to make a quick shift musically or he will never remove the surprising success of the Sessions off his back.

Yes, Magic_is a great album and yet… something is nagging... You see the ancient texts show us that magic is very different to miracle. Magic is a trick, an illusion, a sleight of hand with no actual authentic soul. Many tried to play the counterfeit Jesus with a varying amount of terrifying results. And this is where perhaps this album is aptly named. The tunes are solid, brilliant in places but the big band arrangements are in danger of blanding out Springsteen’s more mature songwriting. They can come across as almost adolescent which is no compliment to a band that is at least greying if not altogether bald (not talking about you Patti!). But I guess if any of us did what we were doing twenty five years ago we would all look or sound a little adolescent.

It is only a nagging though. Below what I am disparagingly suggesting is adolescence is an adult album. The last E Street outing was 2002’s _The Rising_ which coming so quickly after 9/11 was kinda confused about the implications, seeking a pastoral role rather than looking at any issues of justice or peace. Now six years on from that terrible September morning much water has flowed ‘neath the Brooklyn Bridge and a country once in the sympathetic arms of the entire western world are being held at arms reach by even their own people. "Last To Die" asks who’’ll die for a mistake, "Gypsy Biker" waits for the body coming home, and the "Devil’s Arcade" is about the futility of the innocent being sacrificed for somebody’s else’s warmongering. Yet, it is never like Neil Young or Steve Earle. It is allusive and nuanced which is where again there is a gagging feeling that the band versions are too clumsy for the poignancy. 

Elsewhere there is a man looking for the values his daddy told him were his identity in "Long Walk Home" which echoes "My Hometown" in the same way that "You’ll be Coming Down" echoes "Glory Days" though both have twenty years more experience and disillusionment. "I’ll Work For Your Love" is perhaps the best lyric of all, packed with Catholic images of the crucifixion in a song about how love is a work of sacrifice to your lover as opposed to the cultures idea of getting all you want for nothing; again the wisdom of maturity and a message as vital to the culture as any of his observations on war.

The title track is as delicate an arrangement as it gets and takes a similar theme as the least delicate track "Radio Nowhere" in its feeling that we are being duped and deluded by the media. It’s a nagging of doubt in Springsteen’s mind. He’s “searchin’ for a world with some soul” in a world where he senses (in "Livin’ In the Future") “something righteous is going under.” Springsteen’s Catholic spirituality, protest legacy and married life longevity make him an important voice as he enters the realm of elder statesman. Let us hope the yearning to stay youthful in the sonics doesn’t dilute the maturity that lurks in underneath the radio sheen.

Steve Stockman

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.

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