This album is textbook Bruce, with plenty of guitar, familiar glockenspiel touches, gratuitous sax solos and choruses aplenty. At the same time, it stays a little too close to that textbook. “Livin’ In The Future” is a rave-up in the style of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” run through Born In The U.S.A., with plenty of Clemons breaks. “I’ll Work For Your Love” has the type of opening Jim Steinman stole for Meat Loaf, directly descended from the live “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town”; the addition of violin and harmonica bring it into this century’s version of the E Street Band.
But the oddest influence seems to be that of Brian Wilson. “You’ll Be Comin’ Down” borrows its melody and feel from “Don’t Worry Baby”; “Your Own Worst Enemy” could be a Wilson production, with its lush strings, tympani and sleighbells, and a very odd choice for such a paranoid lyric. “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” mines similar territory only two tracks later, but his croon overpowers everything for a better meld.
There are songs that don’t sound like his catalog or that of the Beach Boys. “Radio Nowhere” is a smart opener, fulfilling the narrator’s plea for rhythm and guitars. “Gypsy Biker” provides just enough dust for variety, but the title track sticks out like a sore thumb, being more along the lines of solo works like The Ghost Of Tom Joad and Devils & Dust. It makes “Last To Die” even more striking, with a nervous edge and runaway pulse. That sets up “Long Walk Home”, an ultimately hopeful cousin of “My Hometown” and “My City Was Gone”, and the building mystery in “Devil’s Arcade”. (A hidden track, “Terry’s Song”, is a tribute to his recently deceased friend and road manager that avoids any fake sentimentality.)
If anybody else released this album, it would be praised (or condemned) as an overt Springsteen homage. Magic is undeniably catchy, and avoids any overt theme or message. That’s not to say it’s not there; he’s still concerned about the state of the world and the well-being of his fellow Americans, but delivers it via the type of music his fans want most to hear. It’s unlikely any Republican candidates would mistake these songs for potential campaign anthems.
Bruce Springsteen Magic (2007)—3½