NEW YORK (AP) — Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, "Magic" (Columbia)
More than a week before the release of Bruce Springsteen's new album, the Internet was already abuzz with interpretations of his new songs. The source of inspiration for the rocker "Gypsy Biker" generated particularly passionate debate, with the Web consensus settling on Pat Tillman, Dick Cheney, Gram Parsons — even Jerry Seinfeld.
Now in the fourth decade of his career, Springsteen still inspires the sort of fanaticism usually reserved for the Crimson Tide and Red Sox. He may be 58, but the release of his albums remain eagerly awaited events, at least for the legions of the faithful.
Extra hype accompanies "Magic" because it coincides with the start of a world tour, and it's Springsteen's first new studio record with the E-Street Band since the magnificent 9/11-inspired "The Rising" in 2002. "Magic" lacks the thematic thread of "The Rising" or 2006's "The Seeger Sessions," but the new album is more musically varied. It's a pop record: Springsteen croons and rocks out, pledges his love and tries to find his way home. On a hidden track he pays tribute to a friend who died in July.
Springsteen's latest fanfare for the common man features two recurring topics: the Bush administration and the Iraq war. The Boss mentions neither by name but clearly condemns the conduct of both.
He makes his case most eloquently on "Livin' In The Future," with a reference to gunpowder skies on Election Day. "My faith's been torn asunder," he sings. "Tell me is that rolling thunder, or just the sinking sound of something righteous going under?" More strident is "Last To Die," which bemoans spilled blood and wise men who were fools. "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?" Springsteen sings. Some listeners misinterpreted "Born In The USA"; this time they should get the point.
Elsewhere the lyrics are more opaque or personal, while the melodies are strong throughout as the Boss and his band revisit familiar turf. There's a "Hungry Heart" beat on one song, a "Jungleland" intro on another, the Wall of Sound on two cuts and a brief appearance by Mary, a recurring character in the Springsteen songbook. The opening "Radio Nowhere" ranks with his best rockers, and when Clarence Clemons lets loose with a sax solo on the second song, you can almost hear the crowd roar.
Time to hit the road, Bruce. Your fans are waiting.