Album Preview: Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream
Boy, oh boy, this is really huge, isn't it?
With all due respect to my BC partner-in-crime, Josh Hathaway, this is usually where I go all fanboy.
Friends avoid me. Strangers walk the other direction when they cross my path. When I'm in waiting mode for a new Bruce Springsteen record and tour — especially one with the E Street Band — I just get kinda' all goofy that way.
At least, that's true most of the time.
But for some reason, the full impact that we are two weeks and counting from the new album by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band just hasn't completely registered yet. I'm not sure why, but Working On A Dream doesn't feel like the same genuine event that 2007's Magic was to me.
Maybe it's because the wait for Magic seemed to take forever, and this record seems to be coming so quick. The wait between 2002's The Rising and Magic seemed like just about the longest five years I can ever remember. Some of that wait was filled by the release of Devils & Dust and The Seeger Sessions, as well as with the 30th Anniversary edition of Born To Run with its very cool vintage live DVD footage.
But with each of these projects, hope for a new album and one last tour with the E Street Band seemed to be a window that was rapidly closing. Springsteen himself seemed to be in no particular hurry to re-open it either, despite all of the rumors about Clarence Clemons' health, and Max Weinberg getting ready to take over as bandleader of the Tonight Show.
Working On A Dream, on the other hand, seems to have just popped up out of nowhere. This new record just really feels like one of those "oh, by the way, we've got this new album coming out" sort of things. It reminds me a lot of the way Zooropa just kind of came out during the middle of U2's tour behind Achtung Baby. Yes, it really is a new album, with brand new songs — it just doesn't feel like one.
Let's start with the title track. There are lots of great rock and roll songs about dreams. Aerosmith has "Dream On," Roy Orbison has "In Dreams;" hell, I'll even admit that Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" is something of a guilty pleasure. Springsteen himself covered Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" during the Devils & Dust tour.
But the first time I heard "Working On A Dream" it didn't do that much for me. In fairness, this was only a thirty second snippet during an NFL broadcast, which is not much to judge a song by. It has since grown on me quite a bit. I especially like the bells at the end of the song — it's been awhile since we've gotten those damn bells in a Springsteen song. These aren't big, Phil Spector bells a la "Born To Run" or "Hungry Heart." But I'll take what I can get.
Even so, the song doesn't come close to knocking me clean on my ass the way that "Radio Nowhere," the first single off Magic, did the first time I heard it. There's nothing really wrong with the track. It's basically a great little pop tune with the sort of killer hook that sticks in your brain long after the last notes have played.
I just really wanted to be knocked on my ass by it, and quite honestly wasn't. "Radio Nowhere" may owe a lot to "Don't Fear The Reaper" and that "867-5309" song from the Eighties — but that song still shit-out rocked. "Working On A Dream" doesn't, at least not in the same way. It's a lot more "Hungry Heart" than it is, say, "Ramrod."
The next single to get leaked as an interest-building free download (great marketing idea, by the way) was "My Lucky Day." Now, this is a lot more like it, I thought to myself when I first heard this one. "My Lucky Day" is an E Street-styled rocker, powered by the always great Roy Bittan's piano accents, a classic Clarence Clemons sax solo, big Max Weinberg drumming — hell, big everything. It's a classic E Street Band track that echoes the matchless energy of their live shows.
Like I said, now we're talking.
In the video below, you can also see part of the process of how Springsteen constructed the song in the studio. Presumably, this will be part of the "in the studio" portions of the bonus DVD on the deluxe edition of Working On A Dream.
The third, and I'm assuming final, leaked single from the album is by far the most interesting, though. "Life Itself" is a much moodier track than the other two. It actually kind of reminds me of "The Fuse" or "Worlds Apart" — two tracks that I felt really stood out like sore thumbs from the rest of 2002's album, The Rising.
"Life Itself" has the same sort of melancholic, almost Middle Eastern-sounding feel to it as those two Rising tracks do. What gives the track a great lift, though, is the Byrdsy sounding twelve string guitars chiming in the background. It's also got this really nifty backwards masked Nils Lofgren guitar solo, that's really quite uncharacteristic of an E Street Band record.
Oh yeah, and this one has some nice lyrics too.
Speaking of lyrics, I really haven't got any idea of what sort of theme Working On A Dream is going to have. With George W. Bush on his way out of office, and Barack Obama — who Springsteen enthusiastically supported — on his way in, I don't expect Working On A Dream will be as political as Magic was. Based on the three tracks I've heard, though, I just can't get a feel for the lyrics here yet.
The bonus track, which also serves as the theme for the Mickey Rourke film, The Wrestler, has to be judged separately from the rest of the record for that reason. I have heard that the track "The Last Carnival" is some sort of tribute to late keyboardist Danny Federici (and that Danny's son plays on it). The eight minute opening track "Outlaw Pete" also sounds intriguing.
The advance buzz on Working on A Dream has described it as being both similar to the live sound of the E Street Band (which "My Lucky Day" confirms), as well being "orchestral" sounding. In his Rolling Stone article, writer David Fricke describes some of the songs as "intricately arranged… combining the dense whirl of E Street stage shows with orchestral and vocal flourishes that recall classic recordings by Roy Orbison and the Byrds." That works for me.
So, it's finally starting to sink in for this Springsteen fanboy. I'm starting to feel the buzz for this new Springsteen album. Incidentally, did you know that this album will mark the first back to back releases of Springsteen albums with the E Street Band in nearly thirty years? The last time Bruce released two consecutive records backed by the E Street Band was with Darkness On The Edge Of Town in 1978 and The River in 1980.
Perhaps it was because of Danny Federici's passing making him aware of just how short life can be, but for whatever reason, Bruce Springsteen appears to have re-dedicated himself to his band in the sort of way that fans like me have prayed he would for decades now.
This brings us to the tour. Even though it seems like Springsteen and the E Street Band just got off the road from their marathon world tour for Magic, all indications are that they are revving up to do it all again this year for Working On A Dream. Early reports indicate this will be a comparatively shorter run, probably hitting about 60 cities both in America and Europe. Rumors already are circulating about headlining dates this year at festivals like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury.
One of the most exciting rumors I've heard is that Springsteen is mulling nightly mini-sets where he performs one classic album from his catalog in its entirety. Could this mean we finally get to hear "the Price You Pay" live this year? I mean, The River is considered a classic album, right? If so, my ass will be on a plane to the nearest city where that happens faster than you can say "Drive All Night."
Next up are the warm-up dates, in the form of the Super Bowl and a heavily rumored gig at Obama's inauguration. Anyone got any guesses on a 12-minute setlist for the Super Bowl yet? Whatever it is, Springsteen and the E Street Band will be playing it live, and without anything dubbed or lip-synched. From what I hear, it was a part of the contract that Springsteen himself insisted on.
Looks like 2009 is gonna' be an E Street Band year. So ya' think this Springsteen fanboy is excited yet? Nah, not me.
Here's the tracklist for Working On A Dream:
1. Outlaw Pete (8:00)
2. My Lucky Day (4:00)
3. Working on a Dream (3:29)
4. Queen of the Supermarket (4:38)
5. What Love Can Do (2:56)
6. This Life (4:30)
7. Good Eye (3:00)
8. Tomorrow Never Knows (2:13)
9. Life Itself (4:00)
10. Kingdom of Days (4:02)
11. Surprise, Surprise (3:24)
12. The Last Carnival (3:11)
13. The Wrestler (Bonus Track) (3:50)