Chris Willman
December 21, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

Bruce Springsteen’s ”Magic”

Here’s the rarest magic act of all — making art that unites the personal and the political without getting bogged down in the polemical. Springsteen pulled off that hat trick with his latest, a protest album that boils down to this sentiment: America has lost its course. Me too. Lest the ruminative journey prove a tough sell, the Boss — recently predisposed to crafting quiet, character-filled little solo records like 2005’s Devils & Dust — raucously regrouped his E Street Band for the ride. Familiar touchstones recur, but the group has never given us anything quite like the brittle multiguitar attack that drives ”Radio Nowhere,” a lonely call to action from the wasteland, and ”Gypsy Biker,” an explosive elegy for a dead soldier (and 2007’s most moving song). Throughout, they erect a wall of sound that combines sad, Spectorian pop with angry garage rock — a thick mix that’s big enough to rage against the dying of the American light and blow wind on a few fading embers of middle age. For every number that expresses societal disappointment, like the pre-Patriot Act nostalgia of ”Long Walk Home,” Springsteen lets the accusatory finger crook back in a hauntingly personal lament such as ”Your Own Worst Enemy,” where weighed down by sins unknown, the singer sees his real foe in a store-window reflection. The Grammy-nominating committee snubbed this exhilarating achievement for Album of the Year, but perhaps that’s only fitting: Magic is an album-of-the-decade contender.

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