The River

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

New Springsteen album released today

Recorded in Atlanta. Let's see what two of our biggest dailies have to say:

For his part, Mr. Sprinsteen said that in writing the songs for “Magic,” he had experienced “a reinfatuation with pop music.” “I went back to some forms that I either hadn’t used previously or hadn’t used a lot, which was actual pop productions,” he said. “I wrote a lot of hooks. That was just the way that the songs started to write themselves, I think because I felt free enough that I wasn’t afraid of the pop music. In the past I wanted to make sure that my music was tough enough for the stories I was going to tell.”

The paradox of “Magic” may be that some of its stories are among the toughest he has told. The album is sometimes a tease but rarely a joke. The title track, for instance, comes across as a seductive bit of carnival patter, something you might have heard on the Asbury Park boardwalk in the old days. A magician, his voice whispery and insinuating in a minor key, lures you in with descriptions of his tricks that grow more sinister with each verse. (“I’ve got a shiny saw blade/All I need’s a volunteer.”) “Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you see,” he warns. And the song’s refrain — “This is what will be” — grows more chilling as you absorb the rest of the album’s nuances and shadows.

You can always trust what you hear on a Bruce Springsteen record (irony, he notes, is not something he’s known for), but in this case it pays to listen closely, to make note of the darkness, so to speak, that hovers at the edge of the shiny hooks and harmonies. “I took these forms and this classic pop language and I threaded it through with uneasiness,” Mr. Springsteen said.

And while the songs on “Magic” characteristically avoid explicit topical references, there is no mistaking that the source of the unease is, to a great extent, political. The title track, Mr. Springsteen explained, is about the manufacture of illusion, about the Bush administration’s stated commitment to creating its own reality.

“This is a record about self-subversion,” he told me, about the way the country has sabotaged and corrupted its ideals and traditions. And in its own way the album itself is deliberately self-subverting, troubling its smooth, pleasing surfaces with the blunt acknowledgment of some rough, unpleasant facts.

-- In Love With Pop, Uneasy With the World by A.O. Scott, The New York Times


There's also "Devil's Arcade," a vague lament from a soldier's lover who loses her man to the military. "You said heroes are needed, so heroes get made," Springsteen sings. "Somebody made a bet, somebody paid/The cool desert morning and nothin' to save/Just metal and plastic where your body caved."

While the music on "Magic" tends to sound buoyant, even triumphal, the central figures in the lyrics are isolated, alienated, disconnected and disillusioned. They've been betrayed, deceived, dismissed. There's a riptide of angst tugging at those who occupy Springsteen's Americana. This is not an album for happy people living in happy times. (Curiously, the most uplifting entry is "Terry's Song," a deeply heartfelt tribute to Springsteen's longtime assistant, who died in July.)

"Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you see," Springsteen warns on "Magic's" swaying title track. In "Your Own Worst Enemy," a pop masterstroke rendered in the shimmering, expansive style of Brian Wilson, Springsteen sings: "The times they got too clear/So you removed all the mirrors/Once the family felt secure/Now no one's very sure."

-- Springsteen's Magic Casts A Darker Spell by J. Freedom du Lac, Washington Post

J. Freedom du Lac? That's almost as good as J. Alva Scruggs.
It was J. François du Lac before the war. The Post made him change it when the freedom fries bill was passed.
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