Steve Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren fare better, and Little Steven in particular finds holes to fill with economical but scalding guitar work, perhaps inspired by those raw ’60s garage bands he plays on his syndicated radio program. But for all the talk of an E Street revival, this album could have been just about anyone playing the parts set out for them. Only on the power ballad “Devil’s Arcade,” its official closer and one of its most potent tracks (“You said heroes are needed, so heroes get made/Somebody made a bet/Somebody paid”), do the escalating orchestral swirls and piled-on production do justice to the song. (It’s a good thing, too, that Springsteen recorded the uncredited acoustic bonus track — “Terry’s Song,” a tribute to his recently deceased aide Terry Magovern — solo after the rest of the album was finished. A ham-fisted backing band would have sapped its emotion.)
Ronald Reagan was told to believe that “Born in the U.S.A.” was a patriotic anthem, and some will believe that “Radio Nowhere” is nothing more than a correlative to “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On),” a lament over the sad state of the electronic media. That would miss the song’s desperate longing for connection, and the search “for a world with some soul.” Magic will be whatever it is to those who invest however much they want to in it. There will always be those who laugh and applaud as the rabbit emerges from the magician’s sleeve, and never wonder how it got up there, or why the trickster thought to put it there in the first place.
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