From Springsteen we've come to expect, if not outright demand, the rich, multi-hued detail of every moment, making Working On A Dream a weird one: It sounds real good but what does it mean?
Springsteen has always taken his heralded influences and made them work for him but here he works for them and, opposite his granite rep, doesn't always get the job done. If these dark ages really were the old radio glory days his writing harkens back to, My Lucky Day and the CCR-ish title track would deservedly be blasting from every brownstone window and GI bill back porch; every tinny radio in every teenager's first car would be tuned in and cranked up. FM would be studying the album versions, or perhaps the darker b-sides, say for instance, The Wrestler, The Last Carnival, Life Itself and Kingdom of Days.
Certainly, he hasn't sung like this in ages: That big, American holler that lights up the spirit is in full power but what do we make of tuneful fluff like Queen Of The Supermarket, a semi-finalist for this disc's worst song (Surprise, Surprise takes that honor, the distorted blues mash, Good Eye the runner-up) and its sonic attempt to mimic his last album's best song Girls In Their Summer Clothes? Outlaw Pete sounds like one of those great, late night FM gems—driving strings, canyon-sized howls, drums, and guitar crunch—but I'll ask again, what does it mean? Do we really need another goth-Western myth at a time when all our excesses have come due and reality is smacking us around on a global scale?
I know I'm setting myself up for a grand inquisition within Springsteen circles but I cannot help but suspect that all these sing-a-longs will go far in concert, giving Bruce more than a few break-away moments (ala Hungry Heart) where he pulls a few deep breaths while the audience bellows away. And trust me, it will instill a brief sense of community until the faithful hit the parking lots and the anarchy ensues.
ps: As far as the DVD that is included with the collector's edition, the real treat is the special, made for Halloween song/video Night Of The Jersey Devil: Bruce all devil/preacher/Johnny Cash emerging from the bog and burning the whole place down. The documentary, "Working On A Dream—The Sessions" takes itself a tad too seriously, with all these pensive close-ups of our hero playing and listening to playbacks.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles