there anybody alive out there?/I just want to feel some rhythm.
. . . I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums,” barks
Bruce Springsteen through clenched teeth over the clockwatch
caterwaul of the E Street Band in “Radio Nowhere,” the opening
track and first single of Magic.
sentiment is at once wish and wish-fulfillment, as the corrugated
blast of guitar snarl bolsters one of Springsteen’s most powerful
songs in years—and introduces one of the best albums of his
That’s a tall order for such a mythic persona. While Talmudic
scholars stroke their beards interpreting Bob Dylan’s every
inscrutable move—and while Dylan himself pulls away, blowing
up and undermining old “selves” and often producing work that
is fractured, prismatic, and difficult—Springsteen takes a
more direct (and perhaps more difficult) path, heading straight
into the hard winds of public perception and living in the
same old skin as “Broooce.” There’s an argument for the greatness
of Dylan’s most recent work, but it’s an intellectual and
artistic argument. The argument for the greatness of Magic
is direct and musical (i.e. you ain’t gotta explain it).
so much comes spilling out of Bruce this time around that
one can’t help but think he’s been holding out on us. There’s
the Brill Building bop of “Livin’ in the Future,” which reimagines
“Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” as a more limber, ass-shaking strut;
there’s the wistful, sepia landscape of “Girls in Their Summer
Clothes,” the most “pop” song Springsteen has produced in
years, with its expansive, Phil Spector-like grandiosity;
and then there’s the antiwar track “Last to Die,” which is
scathing and searing and presents yet another argument for
the power of Springsteen’s directness and immediacy.
And when the opening piano twinkles of “I’ll Work for Your
Love” explode into a bright full-band roar and Bruce playfully
incants “Pour me a drink, Theresa, in one of those glasses
you dust off,” it’s an act of artistic self-reference and
a promise that it’s going to be one of those songs,
like the ones that past femme muses Rosalita or Crazy Janey
stand by my old argument that many of those who dismiss Springsteen
do so for the wrong reasons. Stare long enough into his canon
and a thorny and complex artist emerges—but one that tethers
deceiving complexity to the joyful and simple lessons of ’50s
and ’60s rock & roll, and couches his artistic autonomy
in the we’re-in-it-together gang mentality of the E Street
At any rate, Magic is one of the richest listening
experiences I’ve had in a while; thematically and musically
it yields so much that even the greatest Springsteen detractors
or nonlisteners could use this as a starting point. And
no other artist of his magnitude could say that this late
in the game. Even Rolling Stone got it right: Pin five
stars on a classic, turn it up and drift away on the songs.
Kid Rock is on a whole different trip than Springsteen,
claiming “I don’t want to be your friend/I want to fuck you
like I’m never gonna see you again” amid the throes of “So
Hott.” Rock has done some interesting reinvention to stay
on our collective cultural radar, evolving from rap-rock ironist
to someone who just wants to create good-time, work-hard,
love-hard platitudes in the vein of Bob Seger and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
But he’s still got that potty mouth, even if Pamela wasn’t
his for the keeping. And the raunchy hard rock of “So Hott”
is a whole lot more fun than the earnest Southern-funk, pseudo-gospel
bop of “All Summer Long” or such sanctimonious, lighter-raising
dreck as “Amen.” But there’s not much here on Rock N’ Roll
Jesus that illuminates beyond the small halo of light
created by that one lighter.
If there’s an insight we can glean in this post-American
Idol world, it’s that Jennifer Lopez actually made
some damn good R&B songs around the turn of the millennium.
By comparison, Brave seems quaint and obvious. Maybe
it’s hard to work oneself up into a lather over a little pop
album after flirting with the A-list of Hollywood, but from
the teary, sentimental hogwash of the title track to the faux-disco
flourishes of “Hold It, Don’t Drop It,” this all seems a bit
lightweight and ill-conceived.
Long before emo exploded in several different directions,
a few of them unsavory, Jimmy Eat World made music
that really had more of a clear and ecstatic power-pop lineage.
Chase This Light comes six years after their breakout
album, Bleed American (the subtler, darker, but not-as-strong
Futures came out in 2004), and while it has bright
moments, it possesses none of the lightning-in-a-bottle excitement
they could once generate with songs such as “The Middle.”
has a lot of earnest Goo Goo Dolls-like, anthemic flourishes,
and it might be a hit if it appears in romantic movie or is
pitted against a teen plot on the WB. “Big Casino” tests out
the kind of synth washes that define popular alt-rock these
days, and “Carry You” sounds like it’s straight out of the
Matchbox 20 catalogue. It seems to these ears that
the group, once considered a new and driving force in the
emocore stirrings of the mid-’90s, are testing all obvious
routes in search of some of that Rob Thomas money . . . or
at least a mainstream hit to retire on.