Not everything I write is fantastic.  But every once in a while inspiration hits, and I run to the computer and type furiously, as the music plays, trying to capture my thoughts before the mood evaporates.  It can hit anywhere.  At Felice’s mother’s house eating hors d’oeuvres watching Prince kill on the Super Bowl.  I let out a cry…is there a LAPTOP IN THE HOUSE?  In the shower, contemplating the greatness of "The Eminem Show", drying myself off with alacrity, throwing on my robe, fearful that taking time to pull on my pants might cause the feeling to fade.  In Felice’s house, the night after seeing Peter Frampton at the Wiltern, suddenly remembering as I walked the hall how much I loved "All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)".

Pulling up to the curb not long before two this afternoon, I heard Brendan O’Brien talking about his favorite Springsteen album on Sirius.  I didn’t know it was him.  I usually appreciate the soft rock emanating from channel 10 more than the seemingly endless one act stunts.  But flipping the dial I heard someone say how "Darkness on the Edge Of Town" was their favorite Bruce album.  I needed to hear where this person was going.  Turned out he was going to testify about "Candy’s Room".  And then he played it.  And I sat in my car to hear it.

I’m not sure what my favorite Springsteen album is.  I used to say "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle", it was such a surprise after the debut.  He was no longer a Dylan clone, he was a fully-realized rocker, singing about Sandy and the record company giving him a huge advance.  There was an honesty and an exuberance that was infectious.  That’s what drove me to the Bottom Line hours before he took the stage.  I had to be close.

Then came the ubiquity of "Born To Run".  Truly great, but somehow less personal than "The Wild, the Innocent".  It was a statement.  One figured bombast would follow it, more playing to the very last row, but the strangely personal "Darkness on the Edge Of Town" appeared after a three year hiatus caused in part by a fractious lawsuit.

"Darkness" didn’t overpower.  The single, "Prove It All Night", ran out of the gate with energy, but it was the quieter numbers that penetrated.  The songs that ended each side, the title track and "Racing In The Street".  The latter ringing false as words on paper, but the story of hope and loneliness, the way the song was performed and sung, making you identify.  With hope, with grief, the need to continue to persevere.  No star in America does this better than Bruce.  The apotheosis being "Downbound Train" from "Born In The U.S.A."  But the killer, the classic, the unexpected gem, was "Candy’s Room".  Not even three minutes long, it was a peek into the psyche of someone who’d taken knocks but still believed in himself.  The quiet intro, featuring Max Weinberg’s drums.  The angelic piano of Roy Bittan.  And then the whispering of Bruce.  The first time through, you weren’t prepared, for the EXPLOSION, almost forty five seconds in.  Firing on all cylinders, the song goes from intimacy to bluster.  Then, suddenly, almost a minute in, the track takes a left turn, a guitar solo bends the song and the listener.  And when Bruce comes back in, he’s POSSESSED!  He sings the key lines:

But they don’t see
That what she wants is me
Oh and I want her so
I’ll never let her go, no no no
She knows that I’d give
All that I got to give
All that I want all that I live
To make Candy mine

On my first date with my ex-wife, I took her downstairs in the fading light to the living room of the Sanctuary house.  Where I fired up "Candy’s Room" on Rod Smallwood’s cassette.  We stood there in silence.  Later that evening, I found myself with my fingers in her cake.  She returned to her boyfriend after breakfast and by the next day she was mine.

But not forever.

Brendan went on how complex the record was, wondered what inspired Bruce to write it.  I don’t know, but you can feel the inspiration, it’s baked right into the record.

Inspiration is not baked into "Magic".

"Magic" has a curious distance between the listener and the man.  Whereas Bruce Springsteen used to give us his all, we felt he was a brother, now he seems to be holding something back.  There’s a private area we’re not privy to.

Maybe he doesn’t want to go back into the darkness.  To the days when all he had was rock and roll.  When he ultimately dove into a marriage that didn’t work, when he had more questions than answers.  Now he’s got children.  And they’ll give you a bigger reward than any audience.  They’ll teach you in a way performance won’t.  They’ll give you something to live for.

And that’s who Bruce Springsteen is dedicated to.  His spouse and his children.  His family, not us.  We want him to give more.  But he’s afraid, he can’t.  He doesn’t want to go back to that space.

Or maybe he doesn’t know how to.

His fans want harmony.  They want him to perform with his old cohorts, the E Street Band.  They didn’t like when he cast them aside.  They rejected "Human Touch" and "Lucky Town".

But "Lucky Town" is important.  It was written in a rush after the recording of "Human Touch".  Bruce was now lubricated, he was now inspired.  He was READY!  I’ve been in the same place.  The only problem is that I’ve spent all my energy on the workmanlike words that preceded this flash.  The process may have loosened me up, but it also drained me of my edge.  I was no longer coming out of the shadows, exploding into the arena, I was already here.  Giving it my all, but the battery was not full.

"Magic" is not a bad album.  It just lacks a certain spark, that je ne sais quoi.  The inspiration.  It doesn’t sound like Bruce wrote the songs long after midnight, when he couldn’t fall asleep, when he had to get the words and music down.  When he was on a 24/7 jag, when he didn’t have to get up in the morning to take his kids to school.

And he’s got the adoration of masses.  They respect him for what he once did.  He’s in a box.  He doesn’t want to fail.  So he makes an album with all the elements, but none of the magic.

Bruce’s vocals are too stylized, he sounds almost like a caricature of himself.  Clarence’s sax is almost superfluous.  There’s a bit of incendiary lead guitar, but the album is too paint by numbers.  Like Bruce wrote the songs for the record, then studio time was booked.  There’s no risk.  No chance for something unexpected to show up and shine through.

The two best numbers are "Devil’s Arcade" and "Gypsy Biker".  The rest exist in a no-man’s land between them and "The Rising", an album almost laughable in its lack of honest emotion (don’t criticize me, just listen to "Mary’s Place").

It’s hard to maintain that edge, to take chances and succeed.  Neil Young has intentionally destroyed his career a number of times, just to keep his audience honest.  If you think he’s the "Harvest" man, he’ll show you he’s someone else.  Even better, we’ve got Dylan.  If you expected the sound of "Modern Times", you’re lying.  And one of the reasons "Blood On The Tracks" is so great is it was recut with amateurs, rounded up for the occasion, quickly.  Listen to the now-available originals.  They sound like the Dylan you already know.  They don’t have the same jauntiness, the same presence.

But Neil Young and Bob Dylan are different from Bruce Springsteen.  They maintain a gulf between themselves and their audience intentionally, they don’t let you get too close.  Whereas Bruce’s magic has been your ability to feel so close, to feel like you’re inside, that you’re on the same page.  It’s enough to give an artist the heebie-jeebies.

The sound of the album is not bad, but it’s wrong.  It sounds like Springsteen should, it’s not the unexpected raw intimacy of "Nebraska", nor the in-your-face sunniness of "Born In  The U.S.A."

Maybe Bruce just can’t do it anymore.  Or, if he does, his audience won’t recognize it, needing him to be who they want, who he’s always been, the working class rocker from New Jersey.

And I’m not saying that Bruce should cast off his roots.  But maybe he should go to Alaska and sleep in a motel for a month.  Find one of his kids’ friends to jam with on the guitar.  Anything to make him think and take chances.

You can’t give the people what they want.  The people don’t know what they want.  Sure, fans have purchased "Magic", but the vast majority of America has ignored it, since it’s just another Springsteen album.  The story in the press is the same.  There’s no left turn.

Maybe some songs about faithfulness, or faith.  Maybe rumination on getting old, fear of no longer having it.  Maybe a questioning of  past choices.  A reevaluation of his youth.

But it’s not really about ideas.  It’s about Bruce cruising the landscape in a convertible, top down, wind blowing his hair back, and hearing one of his favorite tracks, maybe Martha & the Vandellas, possibly the Searchers.  Getting in touch with who he used to be, the kid who loved rock and roll, who thought music could save not only his life, but others’.  And when the lightning bolt hits, cramming his thoughts down on paper, on a hard disk recorder, not editing, but pouring it all out.

"Magic" does grow on you the more you listen to it.  I didn’t love "Long Walk Home" at first, but now I kind of dig it.  But there’s no "Candy’s Room", no "Downbound Train", nothing you hear and see yourself in, nothing that makes you forget your obligations, your everyday life, that forces you to surrender to the god of rock and roll.

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