Springsteen PS

Jonathan Bellman

I can’t seem to get the Magic CD off my player, so—with apologies for being Jonny one-note—will pick up a couple of loose ends I didn’t get in the other Springsteen blog. “The Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” in addition to British Invasion (I hear the Kinks), has a certain amount of Mamas and Papas in it. “Magic” seems like a something Mark Knopfler would sing, and “Last to Die” is one of those flaming, minor-key rockers that really ought to be a single—equal parts “Wishing Well” (Free, the tribute to the late, then-tailspinning guitarist Paul Kossoff), “Perfectly Good Guitar” (John Hiatt, eponymous album), “The Envoy” (Warren Zevon, also eponymous album), and “The Story in Your Eyes” (Moody Blues, “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour”). The CD starts with “Radio Nowhere,” the killer single, and the styles keep changing, one after the other. Honestly, it is one of the quickest playing CDs I own; it just pulls the listener through it and there is not one single weak track.

Springsteen is at the point where incorporating different styles is not being derivative; rather, the artist is showing sides to his musical personality that I, at least, never knew he had. He’s not trying to sound like anything he isn’t. Of course, I don’t know how much input the producer has with respect to arrangements etc., or if the Boss His Own Self made the calls (“I’m thinking ‘Eleanor Rigby’ for “Your Own Worst Enemy,” Brendan; any guff and Patty and boys’ll do something to your car”). Mutual decision, I’m sure, but the result is that this works better as an album, for me at least, than—maybe—even the early, classic ones. I can’t think of a single Springsteen album where one or two songs don’t make me think, “Oh, right, one of these; the rest of the record is so good, though.”

The fact is, though, that the broadened approach to style is also, in a way, retrospective. On a lot of 1960s albums, bands were told to demonstrate their, uh, “breadth” by having songs in different styles, as kind of a throwback to the era of entertainers who could do anything. (I may have mentioned this before, but one does not want to hear the Left Banke—New York art-rock band: “Pretty Ballerina,” “Walk Away Renee”—doing country, which they try to do on their first album. Abominable.)

I can’t get over what a coherent, energizing listen this is. I’ll try to stop going on about it, really. It’s just such a pleasure for a record—made a half-century into the style’s development—to demonstrate the maturity of Rock languages and idioms like this, and the fact that while Rock music certainly has cultural roots in a kind of unfocused youthful rebellion (“Hope I die before I get old”), such is in no way a requirement. Pace Sinatra (“A rancid-smelling aphrodisiac”) and Casals (“Poison put to sound”); apparently Danny and the Juniors called this one right—it is here to stay. Crank it up.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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