Pop Culture

Springsteen’s ‘Magic’ is a rockin’ good time

After repeated listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic,” the only conclusion I can come up with is that Springsteen — after years of writing message albums — yearns to rock for the sole purpose of having a good time with his best friends.

And while he certainly had a great experience playing with the Seeger Sessions Band, it becomes easy to realize that Springsteen remains in his element with his old chums: the venerable E Street Band. Interestingly, the cover of “Magic” has no mentions of his E Street companions; but make no mistake, this is a full-blown band album that would’ve fit comfortably between “The River” and “Born in the USA.”

Right off the bat with “Radio Nowhere,” Springsteen summons all the power of the E Streeters, including right-hand man Steve Van Zandt on guitar and Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on sax. It’s an up-tempo number with catchy hooks (“I just want to hear some rhythm”) that feels similar in tone “57 Channels and Nothing On,” each lamenting on the loss of connection.

There’s doesn’t seem to be a strong and unified underlying theme of “Magic,” yet there are several songs that delve into mistrust and the darkness that lies ahead. “You’ll be Coming Down,” for example, reiterates how life might be OK now, but just give it time. It’s guaranteed to all fall apart, just wait and see.

“Girls in Their Summer Clothes” is, by far, the most breezy number on the album, one that immediately puts Springsteen back on the boardwalk of the Jersey shore, with little more to do than watch and ogle at the girls who walk by.

Breezes, bicycles, all-night diners, neon signs all bring about a visual landscape that brings both Springsteen and his listeners back to their youth. In feels like a perfect “River” tune, back when cars and girls were still Springsteen’s top priority and a beautiful girl could make all the difference in the world: “She went away / She cut me like a knife / Hello, beautiful thing / Baby, you could save my life.”

If in the first half of the albums the songs may sound a bit similar on a first listen, it’s at “Girls” where “Magic” starts to really hit its stride. Next comes “I’ll Work for Your Love,” which begins with Roy Bittan on the piano, a sound Springsteen fans may liken to such staples as “Backstreets” and “Jungleland.”

Where “Girls” is more of a dreamlike vision — where a young Springsteen would watch the beautiful ladies go by and hoping one would someday be his wife — “I’ll Work for Your Love,” is a much older and mature songwriter who realizes the sacrifices it takes to not only be in love but to keep a marriage and/or relationship together.

The mesmerizing title track is where Springsteen’s aforementioned dark side comes to fruition. Whether he was emotionally scarred by a magician as a young boy, or he just has it out for them, Springsteen sees these tricksters as deceitful and reprehensible, their entertainment value be damned.

With lyrics such as “I got a shiny saw blade / All I need’s a volunteer / I’ll cut you in half / While you’re smilin’ ear to ear” makes it very clear what Springsteen thinks of these slight-of-hand artists. Of course, he could be a big fan of magicians and is just toying with us.

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    The magic of Bruce Springsteen

    From 1973's "Greetings from Asbury Park" to his newest album, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have continued to define American rock and roll.

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    Wrecking Ball Tour

    Bruce Springsteen performs on stage on May 27, 2012, in Cologne, Germany.

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    Family man

    Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patti Scialfa, watch their daughter, Jessica Springsteen, compete at Windsor Horse Show on May 12, 2011, in Windsor, England.

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    'Sexy and I Know It'

    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Jimmy Fallon sing "Sexy and I Know It" on March 2, 2012.

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    Rockin' the Grammy Awards

    Bruce Springsteen, left, and Steven Van Zandt perform onstage at the 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on Feb. 12, 2012, in Los Angeles.

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    Folk heroes

    Musicians Joan Baez, left, Springsteen, center, and Pete Seeger appear onstage at the Clearwater Benefit Concert celebrating Seeger's 90th Birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 3, 2009.

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    Score one for The Boss

    Springsteen and the E Street Band perform during the Super Bowl XLIII halftime show during the game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1, 2009.

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  • We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial

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    National pride

    Springsteen is joined by a choir as he performs "The Rising" in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial" on the National Mall in Washington on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009.

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    Golden boys

    Mickey Rourke, left, poses with his Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion picture-Drama with Springsteen, winner of Best original Song-Motion Picture for "The Wrestler" at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 11, 2009.

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  • Obama Campaigns Across The U.S. In Final Week Before Election

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    Another hopeful

    Then-Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama hugs Springsteen during a campaign rally at the Cleveland Mall on Nov. 2, 2008.

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    Rock the Plaza

    Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and the rest of the E Street Band perform in Rockefeller Plaza on the TODAY show on Sept. 28, 2007.

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    Center of attention

    Springsteen, center, performs in the final number of an all-star tribute to his music at New York's Carnegie Hall in April 2007. Funds raised from the concert were used to support music education programs.

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    Rock union

    Springsteen and wife Patti Scialfa have three children together, Evan James, Jessica Rae and Sam Ryan. Scialfa has recorded two solo albums, "Rumble Doll" in 1993 and "23rd Street Lullaby" in 2004.

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    Stories to tell

    Springsteen taped an acoustic performance for VH-1's Storytellers series at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J., in September 2007.

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    On the trail

    In 2004, Springsteen and the E Street Band joined the "Vote for Change" tour, which held concerts in swing states to raise money for MoveOn.org and encourage people to vote President George W. Bush out of office. "No Surrender" became the primary theme song for Democratic preisdential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s campaign.

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    Ready for 'Magic'

    Springsteen, third from right, performed with members of the E Street Band at Shea Stadium in New York on Oct. 1, 2003. He was joined by, from left, Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Patti Scialfa and Steve Van Zandt. The band released "Magic" on Oct. 2 that year.

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  • SPRINGSTEEN PERFORMS DURING TELETHON BENEFITTING WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIMS

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    9/11 tribute

    At the live broadcast of "America: A Tribute to Heroes," which benefited victims of 9/11, Springsteen opened the show with "My City in Ruins," a song originally written about Asbury Park, N.J. The 9/11 attacks prompted Springsteen and the E Street Band to release their first studio album in 18 years, "The Rising." The band kicked off "The Rising" tour on the TODAY show.

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    Hall of Famer

    In 1999, Springsteen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, the E Street Band reunited for a reunion tour, which included a record run of 15 sold-out shows at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

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    Charitable effort

    In 1985, Springsteen joined 44 other artists to record "We Are the World." The song was a No. 1 hit in both the United States and the United Kingdom and profits benefited the USA for Africa Foundation.

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    Four score

    In 1995, Springsteen picked up four Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Best Male Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or TV for "Streets of Philadelphia."

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    The Big Man and The Boss

    Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons perform at the Oakland Colisium in Oakland, Calif., on Sept. 19, 1985.

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    Five and out

    Springsteen met then-model Julianne Phillips in 1984 and the pair married in 1985. The union, however, was short-lived. Springsteen and Phillips divorced in 1990, and he married E Street Band backup singer Patti Scialfa in 1991.

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    Ax man

    Springsteen most often plays the guitar and harmonica on his albums, but he also knows how to play the mandolin, organ, piano and percussion.

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    On the 'Edge'

    A legal battle kept Springsteen and the E Street Band from recording for two years following "Born to Run," but in 1978 the band released "Darkness on the Edge of Town," which many critics point to as a turning point in his musical evolution. That album was followed by "The River," a double album that included Springsteen’s first Top 10 single, "Hungry Heart."

    Rex Features via Everett Collection / Rex Features via Everett Collection
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    Off and running

    A young Springsteen performs at New York's Bottom Line in 1975. In the summer of that year, Springsteen's career was crumbling and he was about to get dumped by his label. Then "Born to Run" was released in August and it was a rock 'n' roll masterpiece that assumed near-mythic proportion. Thirty years later a special anniversary edition of the album was released.

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    'Greetings,' fans

    Springsteen signed with Columbia records in 1972 and released "Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J." in 1973 to great critical acclaim. It wasn’t until 1975’s "Born to Run," however, that the band found its first commercial success.

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    Jersey roots

    Bruce Springsteen grew up in Freehold, N.J., but is most often associated with the shore town of Asbury Park, where he often played in his early years with future members of the E Street Band and first developed a cult following. Here he performs at the Electric Ballrooom in Atlanta on Aug. 22, 1975.

    WireImage / WireImage

The most political song is clearly “Last to Die,” an ode to what John Kerry said as American troops were leaving Vietnam. Springsteen toured in 2004 in support of Kerry’s bid for the presidency and the two have clearly made a connection that has lasted long after the election. It’s another hard rocker that feels urgent in Springsteen’s deep-throated vocals.

Jon Landau, Springsteen’s long time manager, says “Long Walk Home,” about a return to where one grew up, sums up the disc more than anything else on “Magic.” And for a closer, the slow burn of “Devil’s Arcade” feels like a caged tiger waiting to burst through its bar.

Then there’s “Terry’s Song,” recorded several months after the rest of “Magic” was already completed. Dedicated to Terry Magovern, his friend of over 30 years who passed away this summer, Springsteen whipped up the song only a day before the funeral, and it turns out to be an instant classic.

We should all be so lucky to have someone write something so touching and heartfelt about ourselves for all our friends and loved ones to hear.

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