The River

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Magic" review

Yes, my friends, it's true. Bruce and the E Street crew are back in glorious form!
I could barely contain myself, driving around listening to the album for the first time. This is the most effortless, organic Springsteen album since "The River". It is, in a word, spectacular.

The album opens with the thrilling "Radio Nowhere". Guitars, check. Drums, check. The band, which we must now admit is on the very short list of "best bands ever", builds the whole track, piece by piece, like a well-told suspense thrillier. There's surprise, drama, mystery...all in the first song. We're just getting started and Bruce has already laid out his plan of attack. I'm back. We're back. We aim to blow you away. Period.

It's that obvious.
Come on...he's even decided to use his classic concert line, "Is there anybody alive out there?" in the body of the song! This one of those songs where you immediately think, "Man, THIS is gonna sound GOOD in concert!"

Next up is "You'll Be Comin' Down", a mid-tempo, head-bopping number with a nice, little sax break swooping in near the end. You'll start to notice that Bruce's singing is markedly different than his last several albums. Gone is the "Joad" mumble, or the "Devils" rasp. His singing is clear, confident and for the first time in decades, smooth and pure. Think "Hungry Heart" or "My Hometown."

"Livin' In The Future" will create a smile on your face from ear to ear within seconds. It's bright and sassy, with great back-up vocals and a too-cool-for-school vibe. Masters Federici and Bittan create a sweet, melodic foundation, and Clarence drops in from the heavens to bless the proceedings with some pure sax love. It is around this time when you will say, for the first time, "I can't believe how good this is..."
It will not be the last.
I have always said a song with a rousing verse of "na-na-na's" cannot be all bad. This is amazing.

"Your Own Worst Enemy" opens up a widescreen image with all those cool, dramatic keyboard things that we remember from "Born To Run"...pianos, glockenspiels, whatever...and then there's Bruce's voice.
It is here where you may utter your first four-letter word, preceded by the word, "Holy". The verses are simple enough, but the end of the song will have you thinking of Roy Orbison.
Yeah...that's what I said. It's epic.

Then comes "Gypsy Biker", opening with a familiar harmonica riff, then gallops into a full band, "heading on down the highway" anthem. Loved the haunting harmonica wail leading into a lacerating guitar solo. This rocks as only the full-band E Street can. Again...his voice is exemplary. In previous albums, he'd probably slur or mumble for dramatic effect, or be judicious with melody to emphasize the lyrics. Not here. Oh no, not at all. I can't get over how good his singing is on this record...

Which brings us to "Girls In Their Summer Clothes." When did Bruce ask Brian Wilson to join the E Street Band? Seriously, the opening reminded of something off "Pet Sounds", and again, the singing is simply astonishing.
This may be the song you will play to non-Bruce music fans; they'll re-assess their opinions instantly.
By this time, I'm thinking, Springsteen hasn't made an album this consistent, this enjoyable, this all-around wonderful since "The River."
Sure, "Born In The USA" was awesome, but it is a document of it's time. "Tunnel of Love" is somewhat painful (too personal?), and the E Street Band only visits from time to time anyways. "Nebraska", "Joad" and "Devils" all serve their purpose in the Springsteen canon ("Nebraska" still blows my mind) but they don't elevate your spirit like, say, "Out In The Street" or "Cadillac Ranch" did. Do. Still.
The non E-Street "Lucky Town/Human Touch" had their moments, and "The Rising", as good as it is, is not exactly a "feel-good" record, if you know what I mean. Its' pleasures are more emotional and cathartic, less purely musical. The Seeger Sessions Band...or "the 1920 E Street Band"...did some unbelievable things, but it's a lark. A wonderful lark, but one nonetheless.

Back to the record.

"I'll Work For Your Love" is a terrific, old-school Springsteen story song; briskly uptempo, cascading pianos, insistent drums (Mighty Max!) and easy on the ears.

"Magic" opens in a way that'll bring back some of the hushed tones of the quieter songs on "The Rising" or "Devils & Dust", but "new" elements weave their way in...a mandolin, soft strings...and Bruce again sings well. On those earlier records, he would sound like he's "reporting" as opposed to singing. I don't know if that makes sense, but for those type of songs, it added a sense of immediacy. That's not necessary here.

A linear guitar/string line tease us into "Last To Die", a serious "No Surrender"-ish rocker. The strings add all sorts of drama to what is "one of those songs Bruce used to do". We can't say anything like that anymore.

"Long Walk Home", another galloping rock song, continues the hit parade. I find it fascinating how all the parts fit together so well. The harmonies. The background lines on the guitars. The keyboard flourishes. The solos. The rhythm section so enmeshed, it borders on something preternatural. Pay attention to the fade out. Springsteen fans will be so tickled they'll vibrate.

"Devil's Arcade" ends Bruce's best album in a quarter century with a serious, drop-dead classic. It's quiet, but "big". Intricate, bold. A slow build to an exhausting, anthemic, epic end.


Being totally serious, I haven't been this impressed with an album upon first listen in a long, long time. I'm thinking the first time I heard "Nevermind". "London Calling." "Born To Run."

There will not be a better album all year.

The magic is back.

-- review by M J Heilbron Jr. "Dr. Mo"

I don't need to write a review of the new Springsteen album now. Dr. Mo has it covered. The only flaw in an otherwise pop masterpiece is the production. It lacks clarity. At first, it sounds harsh and indistinct, particularly when played on my car stereo. But the solid bones of the songs are immediately apparent, and the sound does resolve into recognizable instrumentation upon subsequent listenings. In fact, it becomes obvious that the band is in top form, performing some of Bruce's most inspired music since, well, The River.

They lyrics are good, too. Political, and just as well crafted as the music.

Comments: Post a Comment