It’s sure been a prolific decade for Bruce Springsteen, but sadly Working on a Dream doesn’t put a very good capper on it. On his fourth rock outing of the 2000s, he sounds all but tapped out, rehashing the mélange of styles that he’s incorporated over his long career, recycling melodies, and generally failing to make music that excites or inspires.
Working on a Dream features several rock songs of a similar ilk — “My Lucky Day,” “What Love Can Do,” “Life Itself,” “Kingdom of Days,” “Surprise, Surprise,” the title song — that range from mildly uplifting to mildly pleasant. But none of these tunes — none — deserve to enter the pantheon of top-tier Springsteen material.
There’s also a problem with the production. It’s as if the Boss broke Phil Spector out of a nutso ward and tied him in front of a console. The arrangements swirl with strings, background vocals and a thousand layers of guitars, organ swells and even a big bell now and again. When Clarence Clemons’ spits out a short, rapsy tenor solo on “My Lucky Day,” he fights to be heard.
The 13-track disc does contain a few diversions, most notably “Good Eye,” a raucous blues stomper that sounds as if it were recorded in R.L. Burnside’s garage. “This Life” shows promise early on as a sort of homage to the Righteous Brothers, but ultimately flags. On the opener, a bloated, eight-minute epic called “Outlaw Pete,” Springsteen turns in the keys to the hotrod in favor of a stallion in the Old West.
“Tomorrow Never Knows” is the Dylan-esque entry, with a train-style beat and a splash of pedal steel. The tune underscores a problem with the entire album: Springsteen doesn’t have much to say; he’s not reaching for images, shaping characters or painting vivid word tableaus.
“Where the cold wind blows,” he sings, “Tomorrow never knows/ Where your sweet smile goes/ Tomorrow never knows.”
“Jungle Land” was a long time ago. Come to think of it, so was “The Rising.”
I was at the show and loved it. Great insightful review
As usual, great review, very well written.
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