Album: Bruce Springsteen

Magic (Columbia)
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This has been heralded as Springsteen's long-awaited return to form, and for once the early reports are correct. A sustained, unflinching assessment of the ramifications of the Iraq campaign, he has come up with some stinging rebukes to those whom he believes have hijacked Americans' propensity to patriotism, and once again enlisted the E Street Band to deliver his message with as much force as possible.

The underlying theme, most clearly outlined in the title track, is of illusion destroying freedom and deception unleashing death – a political allegory paralleled musically in the way that, for this track, traditional folk instruments are employed to create an eerie, sinister backdrop, implying a blue-collar heritage harnessed to bogus ends. The ramifications of this betrayal, Springsteen suggests, are not easily settled, stretching years ahead: "Is that rolling thunder, or just the sinking sound of something righteous goin' under?" he asks in "Livin' in the Future", a coded critique of Bush's destruction of core American virtues; while in the apocalyptic "Last to Die", a family wonders "Who'll be the last to die for a mistake?"

Those presently dying for it are treated with a dignity denied them by their leaders. In "Gypsy Biker", a dead GI's bike is symbolically cremated in the desert. But this time, the song opens with an explicit condemnation of the speculators profiting from the bloodshed, so there's no way Republican hawks can mistakenly claim it as a patriotic anthem, the way they did with "Born in the USA".

Springsteen adds a hidden track, "They Broke the Mould", paying tribute to a dead friend, forestalling possible accusations of pinko anti-militarism by ending the album on an uplifting, inclusive note.

Even the usual rock'*'roll staples of love and beauty are riddled with betrayal on Magic, Springsteen offering a gloomy prognosis to a young girl in "You'll Be Comin' Down" – "You'll be fine as long as your pretty face holds out/ Then it's gonna get pretty cold out".

And behind the references to the Book of Revelation and the Garden of Eden in "I'll Work For Your Love" can be discerned a further sense that the protagonist's faith has been betrayed. But perhaps the album's most concise expression of the notions of identity confusion, betrayal and collective guilt comes in the pointedly titled "Your Own Worst Enemy", where an anxious, sleepless Springsteen observes, "Your flag it flew so high/ It drifted into the sky".

Download this: 'Gypsy Biker', 'Your Own Worst Enemy', 'Livin' in the Future', 'Magic', 'Last to Die'

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