REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/05/2007
Please don’t consider that remark to be a slight against albums like The Rising and We Shall Overcome; I consider them to be among his finest works. However, both of those records require a specific context; the former is Springsteen’s response to 9/11, the latter The Boss’s first cover album, of protest songs performed by Pete Seeger. Magic, on the other hand, is an unabashed attempt to reclaim the glory of those magnificent mid 70s recordings that made Springsteen a household name.
Thankfully for the Springsteen fan, Bruce reaches out in multiple instances and is able to grasp what made albums like Born To Run so special. It helps of course to have the magnificent E Street Band at one’s side; the classic elements are there. Clemons and his sax, Bittan and his piano, and Mighty Max Weinberg behind the drum kit. Tie a blindfold to a Springsteen fan and get them a little drunk, and they might just confuse “Livin’ In The Future” and “I’ll Work For Your Love” with something off Darkness At The Edge Of Town or Born To Run.
The Spectorian wall of sound that Springsteen once utilized actually doesn’t make many appearances on Magic. Instead, the clean and sparkling production of Brendan O’Brien reigns supreme. I’ll be honest; it worked for The Rising, but it doesn’t here. Maybe it’s just the digital age in which we live, but it feels like there’s something missing. Those moments where the vocals, instruments swell up to reach 11 on the amps….they get to 10. Now, that’s not bad, but I genuinely feel this record was robbed of a few more peaks.
And then there are the numbers that are decidedly un-Springsteen. “Your Own Worst Enemy” and “Girls In Their Summer Clothes,” are bathed in strings, bells, and other trappings. Springsteen also reins in his voice and delivers some, dare I say, melodic vocals? I’d take his work on these songs over his Devil & Dust gymnastics any day.
Much as I’d love to come out, slap an “A” on this puppy and call it a night, I can’t. There are a number of songs that come off as uninspired. The title track offers some lovely Steve Van Zandt mandolin, but other than that I don’t get it. “Last To Die” attempts to be the “big” – i.e. most overwrought and exaggerated -- track on the record, but never takes off. “Gypsy Biker” follows suit, as Springsteen attempts to capture “the road” once again. This time, it doesn’t work.
Bruce Springsteen is an icon; any album he releases these days is usually hailed as genius. And the truth is that Magic is far from an average record -- for anyone else it would be a career highlight. For The Boss, though, this only reaches the second tier.