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.