Speaking of radio, something about it has pissed Bruce off. Admittedly, the lyrics don't help, as Bruce has come up short in that department and regressed into life-is-a-highway banalities and flung the phrase "mystery train" at Greil Marcus to make sure he's listening. He's too savvy to resort to mean old Tom Petty Last DJ tactics, but it's a shock to hear this most dedicated believer in rock mythos mutter miserabilist sentiments over such rousing music (yeah, yeah, but "Born in the U.S.A." was 23 years ago). Which is to say that Springsteen's conviction pins down this amorphous late-middle-aged angst. After years of Dust Bowl sagas, rediscovering Pete Seeger, and pre-empting Paul Greengrass, he still understands that what we most want from radio isn't a song so much as a sound: he's back to hearing cathedrals in his head and Roy Orbison singing "Only the Lonely." Beyond sense, it's what what we want out of Phil Spector, "Sister Ray," Funkadelic, My Bloody Valentine, and Lil Wayne. If this sounds sentimental, it is -- but Springsteen and sentimentality aren't just inseparable, they know how to bring the best out of each other.
If I'm rendering "Radio Nowhere," more delicious than it is, that's my particular sentimentality. It's too tentative a performance; like The Rising's "Lonesome Day," it would work perfectly as the first song on Magic. He's testing his audience's ability to reconnect with megastar-era Brooose as much as he's attempting a mood and a stance for which he may be, ultimately, temperamentally unsuited. Mostly he sounds like Little Steven hasn't played him the new Arcade Fire.