Working On A Dream

Bruce Springsteen

Where others have failed staying true to the vision of artistic integrity, Bruce Springsteen has excelled. No longer bowing down to the trends and gimmicks of the day, guys like Springsteen, Neil Young and Bob Dylan have spent the past decade doing what comes naturally: Being themselves. Consequently, they’ve all made what’s arguably some of the best records of their careers. Springsteen continues to push the envelope by recording music with little calculation to generate more adventurous results. Yet, he still relies on his beloved E Street Band to supply that special mix of urgency and authority to the songs. The chemistry coalesced perfectly for 2007’s Magic and kept going for the follow-up, Working On A Dream.

Leave it to Brendan O'Brien — Springsteen’s producer since 2002’s Grammy-winning The Rising, as well as a studio ace who's logged time with both Dylan and Young (among many others) — to push The Boss while he was on a roll. Caught in the web of a hectic touring schedule, Bruce and the boys spent their breaks recording new music and re-energizing the engine that’s been hauling the load for over a quarter century. Working On A Dream is clearly the work of a road-weathered band, blooming with the intuitiveness and honesty that transported them from the Jersey Shore to stages around the world.

The opening epic “Outlaw Pete” may be one of the most dramatic pieces Springsteen has ever recorded. At almost eight minutes, the regal tale of a lifelong outlaw plays out like The Magnificent Seven. But then the mood lightens, and “My Lucky Day,” an upbeat and optimistic romp, bounces back to the mid 70s when the E Streeters played into the night for hours on end. Little Steven Van Zandt even gives the song an extra jolt by joining in on the chorus.

With George W. Bush no longer reeking havoc in the White House, Bruce Springsteen has turned to the basic tenets of existence— love and life. Pledging his heart to a checker in “Queen Of The Supermarket,” underscoring faith and commitment on “What Love Can Do,” and contemplating the very essence of “Life Itself” — the singer instills a sense of hope and redemption at the turn of each phrase. “This lonely planet never looked so good,” he announces on “This Life.” Now more than ever, it feels right to believe him.

Along with all the positive vibes is the high production value. For that, O’Brien taps into a little bit of everything for inspiration — from the Beach Boys (“This Life”) and the Byrds (“Life Itself”) to John Lee Hooker (“Good Eye”), Dylan (“Tomorrow Never Knows”) and the best elements of portentous, satisfying power pop (“Surprise, Surprise”). In the process, he draws out a dense and fiery flavor in Springsteen’s voice that only gets better with time.

In the end, that ragged wispiness settles into its most visceral and poignant state during “The Last Carnival” and the “bonus” song, “The Wrestler.” The former laments the loss of late E Street keyboardist Danny Federici (the album is dedicated to him). The latter was written specifically for Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film, The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. Like the downtrodden character of the film, the award-winning song celebrates triumph in the face of adversity and ultimately permeates the burning conviction behind Working On A Dream.

~ Shawn Perry

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