My initial reaction after having heard the first six songs on the record was that I understood what was missing from The Rising. Magic is what was missing. Elements of the classic Springsteen sound long forgotten have returned in a big way on this record. I didn't realize how much I missed them until I heard them here — all the more reason his older albums need to be re-mastered, but that's another day on Donahue.
"Livin' in the Future" embodies more of what makes Springsteen great than any song he's written in the past quarter century. It might not be the best song in that span but it is a brilliant reminder of why we're still listening. "I'll Work For Your Love" combines the chaotic noise elements of "Born to Run" and the dramatic scope and inimitable piano work of Roy "The Professor" Bittan, all under the umbrella of an earnest-sounding title. "You'll Be Coming Down" is a pleasant album track that doesn't seem to be going anywhere special until Clarence "Big Man" Clemons breathes into it the fires of life.
The Rising — still a good record — seemed born of necessity. He felt compelled to make a post-9/11 record that embodied the entire scope of the emotions of that day. It was an impossible task and the album suffered under the oppressive weight of those efforts.
Magic doesn't suffer from those same ambitions, at least not musically. I don't know if Bruce had to be reminded by someone or if he came to this conclusion himself, but there is nothing wrong with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band making records that sound like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The Seeger Sessions was a nice place to visit. Magic is where he lives, and the band is his neighbors.
Lyrically, Bruce is anything but content and that makes for a deeper, richer album. Springsteen has always written with a sense of bold purposes and big themes, and that serves him well on Magic. Unlike so many bad protest songs and protest records written in the post-9/11 world, Springsteen has not dated himself by tying his discontent to specific names and dates. These words can be applied to the Bush administration and the times we live in, but they could have been written 50 years ago and will be just as relevant 50 years from now. If I had to venture a guess, that is as much at the root of his discontent as anything else. A lifetime of observation and activism is in its second half and measurements of progress are taken in inches, not miles.