I've had Bruce's latest, "Magic," on an endless loop on my MP3 player for a little over a week now. Since the overwhelming critical meme for this record seems to be " It's Bruce's best album since _________," I'll chime in with "...since "Tunnel Of Love," a criminally underrated record, BTW. After all the acoustic stuff, the rootsy stuff, and even E-Street rock that was artistically noble but earnest, Debbie Downer material ("The Rising," which, just to affirm, I loved), I have been so ready for Bruce to rock out with the band again. He's always said that he makes records so he'll have an excuse to tour and, make no mistake, the songs on "Magic" are going to be killer onstage. Vocally, Bruce hasn't sounded this good in years. A lot more crooning and a helluva lot less rasping.
Weird thing, though...even though it's an E-Street album, it sounds like it was made with a smaller combo. My pal Herb Urban said that the more he listened to it, the less he heard the band. And I can see that. "Magic" sounds like the record "Lucky Town"/"Human Touch," a combo that was too laid-back and SoCal-sounding, should've been. Don't go looking for the big, "Born To Run" wall of sonic boom-boom. The rockers (like "Radio Nowhere") have a garage band-y feel and even the "big" songs sound pared down. The Professor's heavenly glockenspiel and bells are nowhere to be found, for instance. But the damn thing jumps right out at you. It didn't take nearly as long to grow on me as "The Rising." Especially in terms of concert preparation. I knew I'd be squirming a bit during...say..."You're Missing" or "After The Fire"....but take my word for it, there are no bathroom-break songs on "Magic."
And as unfair as it might be to expect Bruce, at 58, to still be writing the kind of fist-pumping anthems that can only be fueled by youth and idealism, there are more than a few songs on "Magic" that have the potential to eventually become part of the Sacred Bruce Canon Hymnal. "Radio Nowhere" and "Livin' In The Future" will be concert setlist mainstays for the next decade while "You'll Be Comin' Down" sounds exactly like what we old farts used to call a "hit single." The gorgeous "Your Own Worst Enemy," with its "Eleanor Rigby" string intro and "Pet Sounds" sleighbells and harmonies, sounds like no other track on any other Bruce album. "Gypsy Biker," "Last To Die," and "Long Walk Home" are already drawing raves in concert reviews.
So...yeah..."Magic" is terrific. While other rock legends like Dylan, The Stones, and even Paul McCartney keep churning out "one listen" new material, Bruce manages to remain vital and necessary. May I age even a quarter as gracefully.