Review: “Working On A Dream,” Bruce Springsteen

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On the cover of Magic, from 2007, Bruce Springsteen’s scowling mug photographed in harsh light suggested that the songs inside might be a little serious – and sure enough, they were.  So if the cover is a clue, what do we learn from a first look at the cover of the new Working On A Dream?  Well, it’s a nice night out, Bruce is dressed up and he looks like he might be … nodding off. 

You can’t blame him for being tired, after creating Magic and touring for nearly a year.  Maybe that affected his new album: Working On A Dream is more uneven than its predecessor but if you are patient you can find some good stuff here.  It’s a pop album, for lack of a better description, and some of its best songs could be hits on the radio (if that sort of thing existed any more).

Where Magic expressed disillusionment and restlessness, most of the songs of Working On A Dream seem more personal and hopeful.  The title song paints an optimistic picture, even while cautioning: “Though trouble can feel like it’s here to stay/I’m working on a dream/Our love will chase the trouble away.”  After being battered by the world and life itself, Bruce is trying to pick up the pieces of his shattered soul.   So it’s no accident that the gentle “Tomorrow Never Knows” is followed by the pensive “Life Itself,” where Springsteen sings “Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?”  

Springsteen has certainly traveled this territory before, from the open-road longing of “Thunder Road” to the hard-won appreciation of life’s little victories on the closing songs of The River.   But he’s older and wiser, and he knows with every triumph life can serve up a side order of heartbreak.  “The Last Carnival” pays tribute to a lost friend (longtime E Street Band member Danny Federici died last year) and waves goodbye as the circus moves to another town.

The E Street Band has never sounded better, and while some of the songs don’t give them enough to do, the musicianship certainly saves the day on full-blown productions like “Kingdom Of Days” and the Motown-esque “This Life.”  They don’t figure so much on the award-winning title song from the Mickey Rourke movie The Wrestler offered here as a bonus, for your consideration.

The album certainly has its share of missteps.  “Queen Of The Supermarket” is a sappy love song that sounds like it was picked up on sale in aisle number two.   Even worse is the eight-minute opener “Outlaw Pete,” a clumsy attempt at a rock cowboy epic that even Daughtry would find funny (and would notice its similarity to “I Was Made For Lovin’ You,” a disco song by KISS).  Play this one on tour, Bruce, and I guarantee half the stadium’s headed to the concession stand for a beer.  “My Lucky Day,” while only a wisp of a song, would have been a better opener – it’s a standard rocker built from the classic Springsteen blueprint. 

So maybe Bruce wrote a few of these while he dozed through the cover photo shoot.  Springsteen’s hard-core faithful may consider Working On A Dream a slight disappointment, but even his minor work is light years above most of the other rock and roll artists out there.  Scale down your expectations a bit, and you’ll find the little diamonds amid the junk.

MP3: “Working On A Dream”

Bruce Springsteen official website

4 Responses to “Review: “Working On A Dream,” Bruce Springsteen”

  1. I think you missed the whole point of Outlaw Pete. I think he wrote it because he wanted a fun, epic cowboy song after the Seeger sessions. Do you even remember Spanish Johnnie? Outlaw Pete is a myth, a good old western filled with danger, macho, love, dispair, ledgend and sadness. The music rides right along with the lyrics. When is the last time you did something to please someone because they liked it without worring about what someone thought. Bruce has fans from the seventies that love this kind of stuff. I am one and I can’t stop listening to it. I believe he wrote it for me

  2. Like you Dolly, I too am a fan from the 1970s. Nothing wrong with a fun song every once in a while too. But I think maybe “Outlaw Pete” would have been a better ride during the Seeger Sessions.

  3. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter … but “Outlaw Pete” should’a been a so-called bonus track. “The Wrestler” is easily the best song on this album but it also seems like it is from a totally different album.

  4. I love outlaw pete!

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