It's tempting to call Bruce Springsteen's rock-oriented Magic a response to The Killers, The Hold Steady, The Arcade Fire, and every other band beholden to the Springsteen mythos. But honestly, Magic doesn't sound like the Springsteen those bands know. Yes, there are traces. The frat-rocker "Livin' In The Future" nods to "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," while the breezy lyricism of "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" vaguely recalls "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," and the title track simmers softly like "I'm On Fire." But mostly, Magic suggests a direction Springsteen could've gone after Born In The USA, had he not dissolved The E Street Band. This is a big, slick arena-rock record—almost anachronistically so.
Magic is also catchier and easier to like than dour social-problem albums like The Ghost Of Tom Joad or Devils & Dust (or even The Rising, which was a chore as often as it was transporting). Aside from the too-earnest Iraq War rant "Last To Die," Magic's songs tend to be as small in ambition as they are big in sound. The reconstituted E Streeters wallop away, but their boss uses that punch mainly for immediacy, while he experiments with breaking free of the well-worn grunting cadences that have often handicapped his songwriting. The result is a new Springsteen, all duded up for 1988.