More Work Needed For This Dream

‘Working On A Dream’ is Springsteen’s 24th studio album and it’s very different to his early, gritty, political affairs. There’s none of the usual vitriol, and infact very little reference to the state of his homeland, which is perhaps now at peace with itself, allowing Bruce to kick back and rest on his laurels. It feels more of a pop album that The Boss’ usual rough mix of folk and American country kicks.

This is an overwhelmingly upbeat album and while it’s nice to think that Bruce is happy, by the third track, ‘Working On A Dream’, I feel a little bored. The track is all very positive, but there’s just certain dreariness to the elevated chorus, while opener, ‘Outlaw Pete’ is a slow-building, countrified affair that’s driven enough, but outstays its welcome by at least 3 minutes, as it clocks in a hefty and overblown 8 minutes.

‘Queen of the Supermarket’ is just a little too mid tempo for its slightly corny lyrics about falling in love with a supermarket cashier to pull off, “Each night I take my groceries and I drift away”, sighs Bruce and the rest of the world just sighs. ‘Surprise Surprise’ is equally gooey and hyperebullient sharing joyous thoughts of birthdays with chimes ringing in the background and handclaps like an evangelical hymn. ‘This Life’ is a sweet love song that has a vibrant pop feel and some neat vocal harmonies but doesn’t really satisfy when you’re looking for that killer Springsteen tune to drive into oblivion to.

Thankfully, ‘What Love Can Do’ kicks in with some snarling guitars and a real spark; it’s full of the vivid colour that we’re used to seeing in classic Springsteen and even sees a hasty, energetic guitar solo pick up the album’s pace. ‘Good Eye’ has a heavy groove and fierce vocals that Springsteen pants his way through, it feels very Delta blues and while it’s not the greatest song, it’s far from bad. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ steps back into more traditional territory for The Boss as an intimate, lilting love song that floats on a chirpy guitar line and energetic percussion which shuffles the whole thing along.

‘Life Itself’ is another redeeming gem, in fact it’s probably the only reason that this album deserves to exist as it rolls along with a filmic, epic quality and lyrics that sparkle with intimacy, “You carried your little black book from which all your secrets fell”. The guitars echo Springsteen’s concern with an audible tension that excites. Bonus track, ‘The Wrestler’ is the other tune that really redeems this album, it’s a touching and rousing number that’s simple but affecting and Springsteen at his understated best.

If you’re looking for classic American rock n’roll à la Springsteen it seems that these days you’d be best off siding with the young pretenders, try The Gaslight Anthem or Jesse Malin for rock that still goes somewhere. Perhaps Springsteen has been trying too hard to be different and not adhere to his proven formulas, but this album ends up feeling rather tired and staid, despite having a variety of ideas from a string orchestra to the 8 minute opener.