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Bruce Springsteen

Magic finds Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band picking up where they left off after they last recorded together, on the monumental, post-Sept. 11 effort, The Rising. Its "live" sound makes this very much a band album; more than half of Magic's songs are being played out on the group's current tour.

There are several tracks you know will be terrific on stage, though too many suffer from overkill on disc. Magic's producer, Brendan O'Brien, adds grandiose to gravitas in heaping and consistent portions. This approach worked on The Rising, but these big arrangements and unending flourishes feel overwrought.

There are a couple of songs where the bold, broad strokes work ("Radio Nowhere" and "Gypsy Biker"), and a few others where the production was employed more tastefully and sparingly ("Magic" and "You'll Be Comin' Down"). Those are some meaningful highlights, but the rest is hit and miss. Cuts like "Last to Die" kick off with a searing, urgent groove, only to be weighed down by strings, horns and whatever else is available.

Springsteen's compositions here aren't surprising or especially challenging for him, but they are pointed and honest. Lyrically, he's not pulling any punches, and the things he's talking about and feeling still matter. Unfortunately, too much of the material has been varnished into something less than it should have been.

Bruce and his band still put on one of the most inspiring live shows out there, and a handful of cuts from this disc are providing some of the tour's best moments. As a collection of songs, though, Magic falls right about in the middle of the Springsteen catalogue.

More by Rick Schwartz

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