Last summer, when I attended the open-air leg of Bruce Springsteen’s Magic Tour at Gillette Stadium, I made an interesting observation: people, regardless of musical persuasion, love the Boss. Though I'm known for my undying love of pop/electronic music, Bruce Springsteen holds a special place within my collection. Since hearing last year’s Magic, I have been hooked.
However, when plans were first announced for Working on a Dream, I wondered if Springsteen had decided to produce a cash-grab album for his politically liberal supporters (the fact that the record was initially set to be released on January 20th caught my attention too) Once the first single was released, the title-track, many fans were left very non-plussed. Sounding like a poor Magic b-side, this song embodies the word "mediocre." Take a generic melody, dated production, add some sleigh bells, throw in an awkward whistling breakdown, and you've got this song (oh, and don't forget to repeat the line "I'm working on a dream." several times more than necessary). In all honesty, the song isn't as terrible as I'm making it out to be, but after the 5-star masterpiece that was Magic, I was disappointed in its lack of originality. After the less-than-great second promotional single "My Lucky Day" came out, I figured it was all over for Bruce.
Then, on whim, I decided to give the record a chance when it came up for review. I find it wholly ironic that Springsteen chose the two worst songs on the album to promote his latest record because every other track is genius. Springsteen's music has adapted to the times: in the 1970s, he did an Americana-type of progressive rock; simple pop rock got the Boss through the 80s; the 90s consisted of crap rock; and then, with the new millennium, he got dark. Working on a Dream embraces every facet of his career from the radio-friendly to the Bob Dylan-esque poems. "Outlaw Pete" starts out this record, and it's entirely something you'd expect from him circa 1978. Clocking in at over seven minutes, the track moves and paces itself skillfully, telling the listener that Springsteen is about to travel the musical world.
Fans of his last few albums will adore the Carbon Leaf-sounding "Tomorrow Never Knows," a simple folk song with a breezy melody and Springsteen's quiet vocals. Alternatively, we have "What Love Can Do," a powerful rock song that will please long time fans. One thing noticeable about this record is The Boss's vocal work. I'm not quite sure what happened between 1980s and now, but I do know that he eventually learned to sing. His powerhouse delivery is still intact, but it works in harmony with a skilled voice that's got a lot of moxie. "Surprise, Surprise" proves that Springsteen can put together a song that nearly anyone will appreciate, as this one will take us back to 1985. Here we have some simple pop music with a twist - pure singles material. Regardless of whether or not you like it, it'll be in your head for weeks, so you might as well make the best of it. Personal favorites are "This Life," which is like an improvement on the sound from Magic, and "Life Itself," a dark and brooding track that reminds me why I became a fan in the first place.
Working on a Dream is a very slick album that stars Bruce's incredible vocals, lyrics, and melody arrangement. For anybody who heard and hated the record’s title-track, I recommend you give the rest of the album a shot because it's a total 180. In fact, maybe people should listen to this album backwards, beginning with the haunting "The Last Carnival," and ending with our 7-minute vignette.
1. Outlaw Pete (8:00)
2. My Lucky Day (4:01)
3. Working on a Dream (3:30)
4. Queen of the Supermarket (4:40)
5. What Love Can Do (2:57)
6. This Life (4:30)
7. Good Eye (3:01)
8. Tomorrow Never Knows (2:14)
9. Life Itself (4:00)
10. Kingdom of Days (4:02)
11. Surprise, Surprise (3:24)
12. The Last Carnival (3:11)