Re: Some thoughts on MAGIC and its place in Bruce's career
- From: "Zeke" <yakzoomash@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2007 10:12:35 -0700
"Chris T Papaleonardos" <ctp@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Just some thoughts I've been mulling over relating to Bruce, his
music, and MAGIC's place in Bruce's career as a musician. I apologize
in advance for the disjointed (and perhaps rambling at times) nature
of the following.
Someone complained that Magic is disappointing because it doesn't
break any new ground. First comment: when has Bruce ever been a
groundbreaker? In a general sense, Bruce has never been in the
artistic vanguard on the music scene, has he? At least from amusical
perspective, Bruce has been more about synthesis, bringing together
the best aspects of what's come before rather than extending the form
in new directions, pushing the envelope. His strength has been in
borrowing and putting together what others have done before, and
creating something that is better than just the sum of its parts.
As for Bruce breaking new ground in HIS music, doing something that
may not be new for others, but is new for HIM in HIS music -- well,
yes, Bruce has done that quite a bit in the last 20 years, no?
* Tunnel of Love brought new thematic material to rock'n'roll
and to his own music with its mature, adult look at marriage and love;
* HT & LT for the first time had Bruce playing with a different band
and a more soulful (on HT) and grittier (on LT) sound;
* Joad brought in the acoustic guitar (used in different ways
than on Nebraska), the flasetto and more contemporary-documentary
political/social themes and lyrics;
* the Rising, besides the new production, incorporated the
violin/fiddle, and the gospel choir background vocals (something first
introduced live on the HT/LT tour) into a fresher-sounding ESB);
* Devils & Dust had more melody and more instrumentation than
Joad, althrough the real groundbreaking aspect of that project was in
the live performance -- the new arrangements, the huge range of
instruments he kept rolling out to play, and a willingness (and
freedom) to delve into his back catalog in a depth never before
attempted (Song to Orphans! who'd have ever thought?...);
* the Seeger Sessions represented a total departure from the
rock and singer-songwriter genre and brought a new synthesis of folk,
rock, big band and new orleans jazz, and a return to consistently
melodic material (and may be one of the few instances where Bruce
pushed the envelope, extended the form, more generally, be re-defining
what contemporary folk music could sound like; it's interesting how
the ONE project where Bruce truly was musically avant guarde is also
the one project that faced the most resistance and rejection among his
hard-core fans. Hmmm...)
[Note: a year and a half ago, when folks here were bemoaning Bruce
doing a dour folk album, I predicted that playing the same material
Seeger played could very well bring Bruce back to MELODY -- something
that is inherently a part of folk music and that Bruce had moved away
from. I think, listening to Magic, that I got that one right.]
Does MAGIC break new ground in Bruce's music?
I think the jury's still out on that. The "new ground" I see is in
the lyrics, with Bruce moving away from the story songs, the tight
cinematic narrative style he started with on Darkness and took to an
extreme beginning with Joad, and moving toward lyrics that are
frequently less direct and more poetic (you won't find hydrotic acid
in these lyrics). In some ways, it's a return, in less extreme form,
to the poetry found on the first 3 albums, but married to the pop/rock
musical sensiblities of The River and BitUSA.
What I'm trying to say is that this album represents a new attempt at
synthesis -- a synthesis in this case of Bruce's own musical career.
In listening to MAGIC, it strikes me as playing the same kind of role
that "All That You Can't Leave Behind" did for U2. U2 said that
ATYCLB was their return to their roots, going back to the stuff they
did best. So they put out an album that was MELODIC (after a couple
of fairly forgettable albums following Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby),
that incorporated aspects of their previous work to provide an album
that broke no new ground, but was a summary of their music from
I think MAGIC does this too. Everyone (or just about) has noted how
familiar this music sounds, the 'classic' ESB sound, the similarity
with other songs in the canon, etc. It's true, you hear the
guitarwork from Roulette, Murder Inc and live Youngstown mixed with
the drumming from No Surrender, the vocals (esp the harmony vocals)
from The River album, the pop refrains from the BitUSA album, peppered
with flourishes like the violin from Lonesome Day, the piano intro
from Jungleland and decorated in subtle ways with bits and pieces from
the Wild & Innocent. And throughout, smatterings of sax solos
borrowed from the BitUSA album. In songs that both musically and
lyrically evoke a sense of, are a lot closer to Lost in the Flood than
they are to Reno. In this album Bruce has revisited his past, and
this album summarizes the journey from there to here, and has resulted
in a set of songs that are as sonically familiar and comforting (or
comfortable) as the lyrics and messages are perhaps uncomfortable for
some. This album is as dark as Darkness and Nebraska and Joad
lyrically, but its soundscape is as bright and joyful and hopeful and
danceable and sing-able as The River and BitUSA.
It's also probably the strongest song selection Bruce has assembled.
No Real Man, no Silver Palomino, no Working on the Highway, no
Cautious Man, no songs you just want to skip.
So nothing new, perhaps, except the particular sonic and lyrical
synthesis that it produces.
I think it's a masterpiece. I'd rank it among his best.
Great review Chris!
However, IIRC, most of the grumbling over the SSB wasn't about the music, it
was about the curious method that Camp Bruce employed for mounting its
official worldwide tour.
The skipping of half the country; the refusal to take the tour into any of
the many semi-small cities dotted across the American heartland; and the
ticket prices that seemed a little incongruous for a guy singing "How Can A
Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live" to a country where half the citizens are
up to their eyeballs in debt.
I think the SSB cd & tour were a nice departure for Bruce. They allowed him
to get back in touch with a genre of music that he felt should be revived &
showcased. And he revived it fine (although nothing special). But then he
failed miserably to showcase it.
And can you really call this music avant garde?
Perhaps his rework of ""How Can A Poor Man Survive, Blah Blah Blah," but I
can't call "git out the way old dan tucker and come and git your supper"
The bottom line for me will always be that Bruce failed with the SSB tour -
and failed badly. His fans didn't fail him, he clearly failed his fans.
Instead of getting young again, getting gutsy, creative, and a bit avant
garde his own badself, he gave us and his country a very half-hearted,
half-assed effort. When that failed he complained and retreated back to the
friendly confines of the fancier countries that make up the EU (what, no
show in Romania!).
I haven't heard Magic yet - and don't plan to until Oct 2 - but from all I
have read it's pretty clear that he has delivered a FANTASTIC record. The
SSB record was not a fantastic record, not even close. When it comes to
traditional American country, bluegrass, gospel & folk, the SSB record was
an "also ran." (This from a guy who loves country, bluegrass, gospel &
However, when it comes to rock & roll, Bruce can sit back, relax and feel
warm in the knowledge that he has found his "rock voice," (the one he has
mentioned would often elude him). He is now crystal clear in the
realization that he's still "got" it, (at least when he wants it). And it
really is kind of amazing - ain't it - that a guy who hasn't indulged in
years can still roll such a nice, tight, giant, high-quality phattie with
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven, where I'm from
- Some thoughts on MAGIC and its place in Bruce's career
- From: Chris T Papaleonardos
- Some thoughts on MAGIC and its place in Bruce's career
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