Taking a cue from last year's old-school hootenanny We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen's first album with the E Street Band since 2002's The Rising keeps the mood mostly light. Magic includes zero songs about the fretting mothers of soldiers who are fighting in Iraq or the plight of migrant field workers. Instead, it's a raise-your-hands-in-the-air rock record filled with upbeat tracks about a "Gypsy Biker" and "Girls in Their Summer Clothes."
This is the kind of stuff Springsteen used to make before Born in the U.S.A. turned him into a cultural icon. Unfortunately, he and the E Street Band tap that old well one too many times: "I'll Work for Your Love" begins with a sprawling piano run that sounds like it just drove in from "Jungleland." The harmonica-driven sparseness of "Terry's Song," a bonus cut, is pure Nebraska. And Clarence Clemons blows his sax like it's 1984.
Still, Magic serves as a tonic for the downer material found on 2005's Devils & Dust and the post-9/11 musings of The Rising. On the single "Radio Nowhere" (an obvious bid for airplay, something that's pretty much eluded Springsteen for the past 15 years), the band works up quite a sweat while their Boss sings, "I just want to hear some rhythm" over and over again. Yeah, we get it.