The Boss is Back


(John Costello/Philadelphia Inquirer/KRT)

Published: October 11, 2007

Where is your hometown? How well do you know it?

The mythologized American hometown—be it a small town or a bustling city—is a staple motif of American literature, art and songwriting. Even in this impersonal modern age, it is my belief that the average American is searching for a place to fit in, a hometown where he or she belongs. Apparently I’m not alone. In his latest original album, entitled “Magic,” New Jersey songwriter Bruce Springsteen returns to this classic theme, which has been on his mind for years. From his very first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park,” to his hit singles “Born in the U.S.A.” and “My Hometown” from 1984, Bruce has been obsessed with this American dream. Things haven’t much changed since the 1980s.

“Magic” deals with many of the same issues that haunted a younger Bruce. Where “Born in the U.S.A” tackled economic depression and the plight of Vietnam veterans, “Magic” is about the trickery employed by contemporary politicians and the meaningless deaths of American troops in Iraq.  But the brilliance of this album is that if all you want is great music, then you can get just that. But if you want more than just fluff, you can count on the Boss. He’s not shy about his beliefs and never has been. From “Born in the U.S.A.,” which Ronald Reagan grossly misinterpreted during his 1984 re-election campaign, to the 9/11 reactionary album “The Rising,” to a recent endeavor covering Pete Seeger’s protest-folk songs, Bruce has always worn his politics on his sleeve.

Bruce, in an effort not to alienate any fans with his politics, has composed a pop-rock masterpiece.  Bruce’s long-time collaborators, the E Street Band, are spot-on and the record is abuzz with an ethereal, captivating charge. Obviously, there was much effort put into the production value, something that is essential in a newly-digitized recording process.  At first listen, this is one catchy, hard-rockin’ album, a throwback to the days of “Born in the U.S.A.”  Yet, just like “Born,” the sugary pop hooks are balanced out by the serious nature of the lyrical content—the songs are anthemic in more ways than one.

The Boss himself has offered brief explanations of the songs at several public rehearsal shows the week of Sept. 23, as well as during NBC’s “Today Show” on Sept. 28. One new song, titled “Livin’ in the Future,” is preceded by a speech about “the things that we love about America—cheeseburgers, baseball…the Jersey Shore…but [how] over the past six years we’ve had to add to the American picture illegal wiretapping, voter suppression…” Bruce ends this explanation by adding, “This is a song about things that shouldn’t happen here but are happening here. This is what we plan to do about it, and we plan to sing about it!” This song (and its live introduction) illustrates perfectly the nature of this record—on its surface, it’s just a rollicking pop song, but examined with a critical ear, it becomes a strangely hopeful dirge, reminding us that it’s not too late to rectify the errors made by the American government and citizenry.

This brings us back to our hometown. America is our hometown—as Woody Guthrie would say, “this land is our land”—and so it is our responsibility to care for it. That’s the goal of “Magic”—to reinvigorate the American public. Bruce’s new single is “Radio Nowhere,” which asks, “This is radio nowhere/Is there anybody alive out there?” Are we, the American people, alive? Do we care? Bruce Springsteen seems to, and this gives me hope that maybe more of that “everyday man” Bruce seems so fond of will also be revitalized by a little bit of “Magic.”