By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Welcome back, Bruce

A couple of months ago I wrote an exceedingly unkind commentary for the Guardian about Bruce Springsteen’s then-forthcoming album, “Magic.” I thought the single released in advance of the album, “Radio Nowhere,” sounded generic enough to have been recorded by a Springsteen imitator. Given that his last two albums of original material were the loathsome “The Rising” (2003) and the instantly forgettable “Devils & Dust” (2005), I didn’t hold out much hope for “Magic.”

Well, now. I’ve been listening to “Magic” for a month, and I’m both chagrined at my earlier haste and pleasantly surprised. I still don’t like “Radio Nowhere,” but it’s not so bad when it kicks off his best album in many years. I realize I’m late to the party here, but I have to buy my CDs like everyone else. I figured I’d at least have my say before Springsteen hits Boston later this week.

What gives “Magic” its strength is that Springsteen has abandoned the strained attempts at profundity that marred “The Rising” and “Devils.” I’m hardly the first to say this (Springsteen himself says it here), but “Magic” is a pop album — the closest he’s come to such an achievement since “Tunnel of Love” (1987). “Tunnel,” in turn, might be his last completely satisfying album, depending on how you feel about “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (1995). I like “Tom Joad,” but I realize that a lot of people don’t.

Smack dab in the middle of “Magic” is “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” perhaps the most perfect little pop song Springsteen has ever written. The underlying melancholy in the chorus — “The girls in their summer clothes, pass me by” — befits someone in his late 50s.

It’s not all confection by any means. There’s a current of antiwar sentiment here, stated most explicitly on “Last to Die.” The album is full of highlights, but right now I’m loving “You’ll Be Coming Down” and “Your Own Worst Enemy,” two relaxed, mid-tempo rockers. Bruce’s confidence in his material shines through in his singing, too — he’s dropped some the annoying tics that had crept in over the years, such as swallowing the ends of his lines.

A word, though, about Brendan O’Brien’s production: terrible. I don’t understand what Springsteen sees in this guy. I understand that Springsteen wants to update his sound, and some of O’Brien’s little flourishes, like the strings that open “Girls,” are nice. But the sound is muddy and distorted throughout. “Magic” is almost OK on my iPod, but it’s nearly unlistenable in my car. It’s as if I’m listening to a radio station that’s not quite tuned in.

Maybe recording last year’s fine album of old folk songs, “We Shall Overcome,” re-energized Springsteen’s writing. Other than “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” I don’t know if we’ll be humming any of these 10 years from now. But this is a genuine comeback.

Discover more from Media Nation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.


Taranto’s wrong, too


The varieties of heroism


  1. Pete

    I knew you’d come around, Dan! I’m more of a Kool-Aid drinker when it comes to Bruce (I still contend “The Rising” would have been a fine album if it were five songs shorter), but I also will acknowledge some of his recent shortcomings. But Magic is a true return to form. Check out more on my new Bruce blog

  2. Zach Everson

    It’s difficult for me to feign objectivity when it comes to Springsteen, but, unlike “Devils & Dust” and “The Rising,” I think I’ll still be listening to “Magic” in several years.I caught both shows in DC this weekend. They were tighter and had less schtick than his last two E Street Band tours. If you get to go, pay attention to the last few line of what probably will be the last song of the night: “American Land.”

  3. Lisa.P

    Forgive the “me too” aspect of this post, but I’m a Jersey girl who grew up burying the needle on every Springsteen album and my experience of this record mirrors yours identically, Dan. (And yes, I did mean “record”…we got it on vinyl.)The production is tinny and compressed and you can barely hear the Mighty Max. And my word, who fades out on a Clarence Clemons solo? It wasn’t OK when they did it to Maceo Parker and it’s not OK now.November 19th can not come quickly enough so we can hear these songs the way they were meant to be heard. Live. And LOUD.

  4. Anonymous

    Glad you had a change of heart, Dan. I love “Radio Nowhere” and crank it up with the windows down a couple mornings a week as I push along with all the other commuting slugs on Rte. 9. Funny about “Girls in their summer clothes,” though. I hate it. It makes me really uncomfortable and I get this creepy feeling that either it’s a bad Beach Boys knockoff or an aging, middle-aged guy lusting after teenyboppers, which in my book might be viewed as criminal activity, eh?

  5. Anonymous

    Let’s think for a minute:”A couple of months ago I wrote an exceedingly unkind commentary for the Guardian about Bruce Springsteen’s then-forthcoming album, “Magic.”” Yes, listening to the CD before reviewing it is always a good, helpful exercise.Link here to a good interview/article with Mr Bruce

  6. Dan Kennedy

    I did not “review” “Magic” without listening to it, which you would know if you had read what I wrote. I sure as hell reviewed “Radio Nowhere,” which still stinks, and I put it in the context of his recent original work.

  7. misharialadwani

    You dopey prick.I responded to your Guardian piece slating Springseen.I thought and said at the time,that your critique was fatuous.It was and you are.I don’t suppose Guardian readers can expect an apology?Typical.You hit-and-run merchants perfecly fit the old description of harlots,”power without responsibility”.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    I wrote it here. But hey, why bother to check?

  9. Anonymous

    misharialadwani is banned from the Guardian books blog.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén