Thursday, January 29, 2009


Working On A Dream

Working On A Dream is the perfect album at the perfect time for Bruce Springsteen.

There's been more written of the Boss than there has been of Ben Roethlisberger in the past week, no doubt because most of the anticipated 150 million people who will watch Sunday's Super Bowl care more about the pageantry than they do the game, and of the people that do care about the game, few could probably spell the Steeler quarterback's last name. To Springsteen's credit, he's the perfect star to sell the halftime show, and the NFL couldn't have asked for a better match-up to bookend their marquee musical performance: God loving, clean cut, all-American boy Kurt Warner, complete with his "you can get a dog if we win the Super Bowl" promise to his daughters, leading his champion of western expansion Arizona Cardinals against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the champions of blue-collar America, the team that brought the steel curtain to the steel city, and a team bred on the ideals of a gritty work ethic and staunch determination.

Just as remarkable is how well the two teams represent Working On A Dream, an album that expertly blurs the lines between the heartland core of the E Street Band's classic rock foundation, and the folk aesthetic of Springsteen's more Americana and activist-minded recent body of work. It's in that spirit of heading west in search of the American dream, but never forgetting the foundation and deeply-embedded roots that give us the strength to leave our home, that the new album shines so bright. And it doesn't hurt that when Springsteen steps into the biggest spotlight of his career, he'll be touting an album that has more commercial appeal than anything he's released since Born In The U.S.A. a quarter-century ago.

The beauty is, the album is Bruce Springsteen through-and-through. Not once in the 13-track offering do the proceedings feel forced, phony, or even the slightest bit strained for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer only six months removed from his 60th birthday.

"Outlaw Pete" opens with a sprawling tribute to the old west, the staunch bravado of Springsteen's man in black vocals driving the stripped-down orchestration of the eight-minute track. "My Lucky Day" follows like a surging stampede, driving guitars, flailing piano, wailing saxophone and all, and the title track meets somewhere between the two, a quintessential mid-tempo Springsteen jaunt as proud and hopeful as it is endearing and resolute. There's a muddy blues hue to the swampy "Good Eye," a backwoods finger-pickin' pluck to the more Pete Seeger-inspired "Tomorrow Never Knows," and the infectious "Life Itself" rumbles with a slow and steady tumble.

"Kingdom of Days" and "Surprise Surprise" tread dangerously close to the sing-song danger zone where folk flirts with camp, but Springsteen seems to know just how far to creep before getting stuck in the tacky sap. Whether he's telling a simple story of love and acceptance in "Queen of the Supermarket" or painting a more stark, pained picture of self-doubt in the album's closing track "The Wrestler" (the Golden Globe-winning title track from the movie of the same name), the lyrics do more than pine for the more wistful days of old, offering a reason to stand tall in troubled times and the hope to find glory in the days that come.

Woody Guthrie. Bob Dylan. Johnny Cash. You hear a bit of them all throughout Working On A Dream. But most of all you hear Bruce Springsteen, a man who's come a long way since releasing Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. some 36 years ago, and a man who's singing like he's got a long way left to go.

Working On A Dream is the soundtrack of a voyage well-worth taking.

RATING: * * * *

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