After the previous two trips outside the E-Street Band style, Springsteen returned to the band on October 2nd, 2007 with Magic. Frankly, I find this album to be the strongest of this latter era of his career, and frankly, with The Rising out there, that's saying something. There's what I would consider a perfect mixing of the political, personal, and the outright fun on this album.
Radio Nowhere, sets the mood. It's a muscular E-Street rocker, full of big guitars and big, Max Weinberg drums. It's fun, it'll get your fist pumping, but there's more underneath. Now maybe that's an indictment of satellite radio, and the homogenization of the airwaves. Or maybe it's about the general public's lack of reaction and understanding of the legacy of George W. Bush's Presidency. Or maybe it's just a feel-good rock 'n roll song about getting lost in the music.
Well, it's all of that. In a way it's the perfect track for Magic. All across the album, there are hints and allegations, but without ever losing the hook into the idea that what Springsteen does best is tell stories and make toes tap.
I'm a big believer that the best way to make a political statement is to tie it, intimately, to the personal. You get bonus points if you can then turn it even further and make the whole thing entertaining. Magic is an album that is simply fun to listen to. It's so much fun that even fans who had problems dealing with Springsteen espousing leftist viewpoints (and, man, there were a lot of them...which is really odd to me, it's not like it came out of the blue) took to the album.
There are so many great songs here. You'll Be Comin' Down is a personal favorite. Livin' in the Future became a live staple, despite more than a passing resemblance to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, mixing both a warning and a call to arms into a song that's just great to dance to.
Then there's tracks that embrace a new sound for the E-Street Band. Girls in Their Summer Clothes sounds like a Beach Boys tune at times. Your Own Worst Enemy and I'll Work For Your Love head in that direction, as well. It's a whole new side of the band, and we'd be due to hear more in that direction.
The last five tracks of the album proper have a wondrous unity, building a narrative around the the journey America had been on during the Bush years. Magic, which is probably the most nakedly critical track on the album, into Last To Die. From there we go to Long Walk Home, which looks to the future with a feeling that the heart of America will always right itself from the wrong path, though that process is almost always a long one. Then Devil's Arcade, which almost feels like a eulogy for what had been lost.
Last we have a late addition to the record before it was released, a song for Springsteen confidant Terry McGovern, who had passed away shortly before. Terry's Song is a truly heartfelt and emotional goodbye, and it really gets to me every, single time I hear it.
Magic is one of those albums that really shouldn't exist. An artist in the third decade of his career really shouldn't be crafting albums that feel this immediate and connected. To me, it's proof positive that Springsteen is still a valid and powerful artistic force. The record just simply says so much about how Springsteen sees the world, with clarity and power, that alone would make it special, but Bruce takes it that much further, and makes it a celebration of all that his band can do, and how much fun it is to hear them do it.