Bruce Springsteen

Magic (Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen

In his worldwide scoop on Bruce Springsteen's fifteenth studio album, Jean Paul Sartre expressed his nausea as the absence of "the significance of things" and the dissolution of "feeble points of reference" into existential absurdity. So if one feels a little barfy by early encounters with Magic and its spellbound critics, it's not due to some stilted Okie drawl (hallelujah, Springsteen left it with the Seeger Sessions) or some massive Rushmore of rockitude, but because all dissent is futile, devoid of meaning, a null set of spitballs against your boss — the Boss. And if you doubt it, just ask Pitchfork, who've claimed Bruce as an ur-indie rock idol. Let the queasiness begin.

Much of Magic recalls Dylan's Street Legal, on which a great band goes for broke while a great songwriter goes a little bonkers trying to write exactly the kind of song that made him great — forgetting that greatness never needs such exertion. Springsteen tries very hard to be Springsteen (even the album jacket echoes Darkness on the Edge of Town). He fares better than Dylan playing Dylan. For every middle-of-the-open-road "Gypsy Biker" there's a flat-out E Street boogaloo such as "Livin' in the Future"; for every pushy, crypto-Catholic "I'll Work for Your Love" (his wordiest anthem since "Mary Queen of Arkansas") there's a plainspoken sense of place like "Long Walk Home"; and for every Big Man sax honk (he's still playing the one break he's always played) there's a Telecaster solo that sounds like the wiry, canny semi-punk kid who didn't just preach that rock & roll can change your life, but seemed to do it. Magic won't because the myths are dead, and myths are nearly all it offers — that and a hell of a band that can still play some sick rock & roll.

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