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Music Review: Bruce Springsteen – Working on a Dream

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Written by General Jabbo

While on tour for his excellent 2007 album Magic, Bruce Springsteen quickly realized the fabled E Street Band was playing some of the best shows of its career. Wanting to catch lightning in a bottle, he gathered the band together during breaks on the tour to record his next batch of songs. Those songs became Working on a Dream.

The album opens with “Outlaw Pete,” a sprawling eight-minute epic with western overtones, classic Springsteen harmonica, and a big, layered sound not unlike many of the songs on Magic. It’s classic Bruce and as good as anything he’s written.

“My Lucky Day” is an all-out rocker that would be at home on The River or Born in the U.S.A. The album’s first single, the title track, blends lush melodies over a chorus that would make Roy Orbison envious.

On “Queen of the Supermarket,” Springsteen longs for the attractive woman behind the checkout counter. It’s orchestrated ‘60s pop and sounds like classic ‘70s Bruce. While others may find the content creepy, we don’t know the age of the woman he is lusting for or the age of the protagonist in the song. It’s no worse than a mid-‘30s Brian Wilson writing “Roller Skating Child” at least.

The melody of “What Love Can Do” borrows from Fountains of Wayne’s “Amity Gardens” but veers into harder-rocking territory while “This Life” invokes Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. “Tomorrow Never Knows,” not to be confused with the Beatles’ track of the same name, is an up-tempo country folk tune with fiddles. One could easily imagine Bob Dylan signing it.

The jangly guitars of “Surprise, Surprise” recall the Byrds at the height of their mid-‘60s powers, while “The Last Carnival” pays tribute to fallen bandmate Danny Federici, whose son Jason plays accordion on the track.

The album closes with a bonus track — the Golden Globe-winning title song from The Wrestler about a broken-down athlete in which Springsteen plays all the instruments.

Working on a Dream was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who also produced The Rising and Magic. As such, the albums all have a sense of continuity. O’Brien understands Springsteen’s vision and has brought out some of the best work of his career. Springsteen is at an age when most artists become oldies acts or simply fade away, yet Working on a Dream shows the Boss is as vital as ever.

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  • JC Mosquito

    Well, I know there’s a lot of Springsteen fans on this site, myself included, but I have to say I’m finding this to be one of the few non-essential albums he’s ever released. Every album up to and including Born in the USA held up a a solid piece of work in itself, but Working on a Dream simply feels like a collection of songs thrown together at random. I dunno – maybe I’ll get it on subsequent listenings, but right now it’s not doing it for me.

  • kevin c

    I gave a cursory listen and wasn’t too keen on this. Naturally, Rolling Stone did a cover story on Bruce and did as it always does — go way overboard praising a mediocre record by a legend who we wish would return to the form of past glories. I suspect the RS Record Guide that will come out 10-15 years from now will seriously downgrade the rating. The boss’s lyrics are getting very trivial and cliched. I’m tried of drivel about “lucky days” and sunrises and such. I didn’t think of “Magic” either. I’m a realist, and have to come accept that with the exception of Dylan, the Neil Youngs John Fogertys Paul McCartneys, Rolling Stonses, REMs et. al seem to have lost the touch and it ain’t comin’ back, at least not in this lifetime.

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    I didn’t think of “Magic” either.

    Wow. I don’t think Magic is as great as, say, Born to Run or Nebraska. But even by Bruce’s standards, I thought it was outstanding, a more than worthy addition to his canon: and that’s without grading it on the curve just because he’s Bruce.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this new album yet. On first listen, it does seem quite a bit less complex lyrically. On the other hand, while a lot of the reviews I’ve read have focused on the production, I believe the really salient thing is that it’s the most melodic album he’s ever produced, and what are the odds of that happening at this point in his career?

    These days, whenever I first hear a new Bruce Springsteen release, I think about how I didn’t care for The Ghost of Tom Joad at all initially, and only realized its brilliance five years later, and how I realized only about two years ago that Lucky Town is a stunningly great album, as opposed to the pretty good-to-really good album I’d thought for the first fifteen years, and that it took me years to trip to the fact that there has never been a lovelier recording ever than “New York City Serenade.” And I have decided that by now my boy Spruce has earned my patience.

    So. Maybe a somewhere down the road I’ll decide that Working on a Dream is his weakest original release ever. Or maybe I’ll feel it’s in his top five. But I think I’ll wait at least five years to decide either way. And in the meantime, of course, it’s mighty enjoyable to discuss.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    I gave a cursory listen and … a mediocre record

    it’d be more efficient to not listen at all and just declare that the record sucks.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    My thoughts remain pretty mixed and I’ve listened to it pretty much non-stop since I’ve got it. I do know that WOAD grows on me every time I listen, and that I also hear something new each time. It’s a very dense record, that’s for sure.

    It’s also definitely different, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll give Springsteen this much…he’s definitely not content to coast on past glories.

    -Glen

  • Mickey T

    As a 30 year fan of Springsteen – but one that I think has a reasonably critical ear for his triumphs and misses – I differ from most here.

    I think Working on a Dream is absolutely fabulous. Give it four or five listens and the tunes that are deceptively stodgy This Life and Kingdom of Days – slowly reveal themselves to be stunningly conceived love-songs. My enjoyment of their orchestration grows with every listen.

    The guitar break in Kingdom of Days? – oh yes one of those great great Springsteen moments where you can’t wait to hear it come in. My Lucky Day will be a barnstormer live, and I just love it because it says in the simplest terms exactly what i want to say to my partner after every good thing and bad thing and tragedy we have been through for 15 years. That’s the man’s gift.

    Last Carnival (for Danny) couldn’t have been done any better. The ghostly intro is lovely.

    Outlaw Pete is a killer track. Vocals are great. I love the countrified Tomorrow Never Knows. I like the guy’s moral core – whether he’s great at acting that out – or he really is such a decent soul i don’t know, but his songs speak to me, and his commitment to live performance never seems to fail.

    I liked Magic to begin with but felt it started to feel formulaic. I think this new album seems kind simple and ‘non-essential’ to begin with – but the more i play it the more it kills me. It’s awesome. If you don’t think so – try again.

    just my two-penneth worth. hope it made sense.

    thanks Bruce – and yes Queen of Supermarket – I get that too.

  • http://scottpeterson.typepad.com/ scott

    GREAT comment, Mickey. I’ve listened to it a half-dozen times in the past day and a half, and it’s definitely growing on me as well.