Is it still magic when you know how the trick is done?

In Bruce Springsteen’s case the answer is. “Yes.”

The new CD from the boss is called “Magic” but it’s more of the street corner variety than a David Blaine network spectacular. And you know what? — that’s OK. Bruce is now in E Street mode. He’s put aside the homespun earnestness of “The Seeger Sessions” and the stripped down grimness of “Devils and Dust.” Just in time too, ’cause Bruce can still be a vital voice in contemporary music, not some dusty museum piece.

So what do we have on “Magic?” Well, if Bruce were a public interest group he’d be the Sierra Club because there’s a whole lot of recycling going on. With the exception of Radio Nowhere and Last to Die there’s nothing that pushes into the breakthrough category. In fact on just about every song you can pick out a riff, or theme or hook that matches up pretty closely to an earlier tune. Livin’ In The Future has more than a passing resemblance to Tenth Avenue Freeze Out — I’ll Work For Your Love is a hybrid of Thunder Road and Land of Hope and Dreams. The title track could be The Ghost of Tom Joad Part II. Does that make the new songs weak? Not really. Bruce is smart enough to only re-work the good stuff so the new songs feel instantly comfortable and credible.

“Magic” also flies by at a crisp pace, even the bonus tribute song to Springsteen’s late friend Terry Magovern doesn’t slow things down very much. If you’ve ever listened to “Devil’s and Dust” from start to finish you’d swear it’s six hours long. It also helps that Bruce really has something to say. Last to Die, Long Walk Home and Devil’s Arcade all tackle the fragile balance between the promise and reality of American life. Unlike “The Rising” the message songs blend much better with the less heavy material. You can enjoy Girls In Their Summer Clothes without feeling guilty about it. Mary’s Place on “Rising” just felt out of place.

You also have to give Springsteen credit for hitting the road with new material. He could fill arenas forever without ever writing a new song, but wouldn’t think of it. Hello Sting! Bruce also writes songs that allow his band mates to shine. Sure, he’s the ring master, but he loves to share the spotlight. The new songs will blend seamlessly with the classics on tour, and no one will leave a Springsteen show feeling slighted.

“Magic” is not essential Springsteen, but it is most welcome. Bruce proves you don’t need smoke and mirrors to sell a class act.


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