NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bruce Springsteen's new album "Magic" marks his return to the pop sound that propelled him to mega-stardom in the 1980s, but the hook-laden melodies mask lyrics portraying an America of despair and hopelessness.
Springsteen says he is prepared for criticism from those who may take the lyrics on his latest album "Magic" as unpatriotic for speaking out against the Iraq war and U.S. President George W. Bush in war time.
"I believe every citizen has a stake in the course, direction of their country. That's why we vote. It's unpatriotic at any given moment to sit back and let things pass that are damaging to some place that you love so dearly and that has given me so much," Springsteen says in an interview on the CBS news show "60 Minutes" to air on Sunday night.
One of the starkest examples of those lyrics some may take as unpatriotic are in the song "Livin' in the Future."
The song's sound is evocative of earlier Springsteen tunes for lovers dancing on a beach on a sunny summer day. But its lyrics paint a bleak picture of estrangement and loss. While the Iraq war is not mentioned, the symbolism is clear.
"My ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody red horizon, the groundskeeper opened the gates and let the wild dogs run," Springsteen sings. "My faith's been torn asunder, tell me, is that rolling thunder or just the sinkin' sound of somethin' righteous goin' under?"
Rolling Stone Executive Editor Joe Levy said those lyrics are unlikely to hurt concert ticket or album sales.
"His audience is not going to desert him, nor should (they) be the least bit surprised by how he feels, especially three years after the 'Vote For Change' tour," Levy said.
Levy was referring to the concerts staged by MoveOn.org, the liberal political group behind concerts in 2004 aimed at unseating Bush. Springsteen also performed at several campaign stops for Bush's 2004 Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry.
However, Levy said Springsteen will likely be grist for the mill among conservative radio and talk show hosts who will likely rail against the record and its message.
"You're talking about a right-wing media machine that can manage to make a war hero like John Kerry look like a faker. These people are not burdened by reality," he said.
"The Boss" is no stranger to penning rock anthems with lyrics at odds with their upbeat and uplifting sound.
His huge 1984 hit "Born in the U.S.A." told the story of a Vietnam veteran forced into combat to avoid jail, go to "kill the yellow man," only to return home and be denied work.
The song was widely misinterpreted as an uplifting work of unabashed patriotism.
Former President Ronald Reagan, on his way to a landslide 1984 re-election, said at a New Jersey campaign speech: "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen."
Springsteen and his E Street Band are on the road promoting "Magic" and the 58-year-old's comments before playing "Livin' in the Future" are far from ambiguous.
"In the past six years we've had to add to the American picture rendition, illegal wiretapping, voter suppression, no habeas corpus, the neglect of our great city of New Orleans and her people, an attack on the Constitution and the loss of our best young men and women in a tragic war," he said before performing the song on NBC's "Today" show.
"This is a song about things that shouldn't happen here happening here."