As you get older, you come to grips with the fact that many of your heroes will falter and fade, and that both genius and relevance have finite shelf lives. The best of bands become novelty acts or worse if they don’t die or break up first, and often they aren’t even self-aware enough to realize it. As Neil Young said, better to burn out than to fade away.
So it was with much trepidation that I dove into Springsteen’s latest when it hit the streets last Fall. Granted, Bruce had already cycled through an extended period of mediocrity and came out the other end with Rock Statesman credentials, but he’s just at that point where you don’t know what to expect.
So imagine my joy and relief when what I heard was an honest-to-god Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band record. And not just one that passes enough muster to warrant the Boss seal, but an album that you could drop into the late 70’s and, production polish and infinite nostalgia aside, place somewhere between Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River.
If that sounds hyperbolic (it did to type, even with conviction), then give it a listen and tell me I’m wrong. “Radio Nowhere” announces, with resignation and a lonely anger, his own nostalgia for the landscape that fostered his prime, and from that touchstone launches a litany of our favorite incarnations of Bruce. The grasp for the summers of youth, the blue-collar romantic, the carefree and the overburdened, the hopeful and the disenfranchised, they all make their appearances. But whereas many artists of his longevity have nothing left in the tank but to dust off and repackage old chestnuts, Springsteen approaches familiar turf with renewed gusto, blazing through a set of mostly rockers with fierce guitars, soaring sax, and smart arrangements.
Hey, none of these songs will become “Born to Run” or “Thunder Road”. That window has passed, sadly or just realistically. But Magic serves to underscore that the man who rarely missed during the 70’s and early 80’s can still knock it out of the park.