Bruce Springsteen's album "Magic" hits stores and download centers today.
Officially, that is.
The single "Radio Nowhere" was released to radio weeks ago and bootleg copies of the entire CD were leaked through file-sharing sites a few hours later.
Jumping the gun is understandable. For longtime Springsteen fans like me and WKLH morning man Kevin Brandt, the release of a new E Street Band album is a major event. I'll admit it: we're geeks. We've seen Springsteen shows together in six different states and will likely catch a few shows on the upcoming tour.
After giving "Magic" a few spins, or whatever you do with an mp3, K.B. and I had the following conversation:
Drew Olson: OK, first impression: I heard the "Radio Nowhere" and I thought "Wow -- big hooks and big guitars! Bruce is over his "Devils and Dust" and "Seeger Sessions" forays and ready to rock." A lot of people are saying he stole the riff from Tommy Tutone ("867-5309"), but that growling guitar strike me as a cross between that Bryan Adams "Run to You" lick and R.E.M's Peter Buck chasing storm clouds on "The One I Love."
Kevin Brandt: "Radio Nowhere" struck me as a solid in your face concert opener. It is pure E Street Band with Miami Steve's background vocals, Gary Tallent's traveling bass line and the signature Clarence Clemons sax solo. It begs for what is missing on radio today, that being "a thousand guitars... pounding drums."
DO: I thought the same thing about it opening the show. How many bands that have been around awhile are able to open concerts with new material?
KB: Not many. A lot of bands seem embarrassed when they try to play new stuff and people head to the bathroom or the beer stands.
DO: Lyrically, "Radio Nowhere" reminded me a little of Tom Petty's rant in "The Last DJ," where he torches the corporate weasels that have ruined the music industry. When you listen to the whole CD, you realize that when Springsteen asks "Is there anybody alive out there" on "Radio Nowhere," he's not just talking about the soul-less nature of the music industry but as society as a whole. The lyrics on this record are pretty dark, but there is kind of a bouncy, pop sheen to it. It sounds like the E Street Band.
KB: "You'll Be Comin' Down" could have come off "The River" or "Tunnel of Love", but I think a lot of the songs on the album -- "Your Own Worst Enemy," "Girls in their Summer Clothes," "Last to Die" - were a bit overproduced by Brendan O'Brien. And while they are reminiscent of earlier works, they lack the rawness that made the E Street Band the world's greatest club band ever.
DO: When I listen to "I'll Work For Your Love," with the piano intro and the harmonica up front, that fits into what he's done before. That could have been an outtake from "Born to Run."
KB: I love the opening lyric: "Pour me a drink, Theresa in one of those glasses you dust off." I've sat in that bar. I know Theresa.
DO: That is a pretty classic Bruce, with the religious overtones and all.
KB: It's got the classic E Street sound: piano, glockenspiel and strings that take you into the heart of "Jungleland," but the melody becomes very predictable and the lead break in the middle elementary.
DO: Some of the lyrics on this record will sound familiar to other geeks like us. I remember Bruce rapping about "Girls in their Summer Clothes" during the intro to "All That Heaven Will Allow" on the "Tunnel of Love" tour. That song would have fit on that album, I think. I saw an interview where Bruce called it his homage to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" thing that he loved.
Another echo -- the line in "Gypsy Biker" about polishing up the chrome is similar to a line in that great "Born in the USA" b-side, "Shut Out The Light." In that song, a soldier comes home and finds his world change. In "Gypsy Biker," the song is sort of viewed through the family of a soldier who doesn't make it home.
KB: "Gypsy Biker" could have been an outtake from "Human Touch." One of the things about the sound of this album ... It seems that the band has gotten so large that Bruce feels compelled to give everyone their little piece of every song. He's got chorused/delayed guitar for Nils Lofgren, acoustic and harmonies for Patti Scialfa and violin parts for Soozie Tyrell. It's all written to accommodate Bruce's "new voice." The old one is gone.
The key to this album isn't necessarily in the music as much as it is the lyrics.
DO: I'm with you on that. The contrast is that the music is uplifting, but the lyrics paint a pretty dark picture of where Bruce thinks we are as a country -- from the crappy music played on pop radio to war profiteering and the foreign policy of the administration.
KB: Once again, Bruce brings us stories of life and unsatisfied desires, but in a sonic template that reminds you of the "cars and girls" classics, with metaphorical references to the politics of this generation. Some are blatant, such as in "Last to Die," while others are more subtle such as "Long Walk Home," which can be about a long walk, a veteran returning to his hometown or a country having to live through the sins of this administration.
DO: Let's talk about the title track, "Magic." It's a pretty haunting number and the lyrics don't leave much room for interpretation: "Trust none of what you hear and less of what you see. This is what we'll be. This is what we'll be."
KB: Magic is the best song on the album. It's simple. It has strong lyrical content and ominous tones. It could have come from "Devils and Dust," "The Ghost of Tom Joad" and even "Nebraska."
Another good song was a late addition, "Terry's Song," his homage to long-time bodyguard Terry McGovern, who died in July. Aficionados reading this can think of a cross between "The Promise" and "My City of Ruins," sans gospel breakdown.
DO: That song was straight from the heart, you can tell. What's your overall take on this record?
KB: This album you will have to live with for a few listenings to truly appreciate. It is not like "The Rising," which kicked your ass from the first notes of "Lonesome Day."
As with most musicians that have been around as long as Bruce, their passions change from hunger and longing to commenting on the present. Bruce probably doesn't have another "Rosalita" or "Thunder Road" in his fingertips, but then again, he's been there.
This is a great chapter added to an outstanding volume of work. I just wish it were a little more raw.
(Editor's note: Here is Springsteen preaching and performing "Living in the Future" on "The Today Show.")
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.