Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Working On A Dream (Columbia)

Bruce Springsteen's latest album is an attempt to mix together his usual elaborate storytelling and the hard-driving instrumentation that fuels many of his most beloved anthems. After the release of 2005's Magic, a critical commentary on America with a less than subtle message of disdain for the previous administration, Bruce comes back with a love letter to the future and its promise of hope and change.

But alas, it is an attempt. The album delivers its message with schlock and unoriginal melodies that can easily be hummed before they are heard. The majority of the album lacks the power that is Bruce himself, negating so much of the style that made him the Boss. Working On A Dream is heavy with simplistic metaphors such as romance in the aisles in “Queen of the Supermarket” and finger-snapping tunes like in “My Lucky Day.” Much of the album is devoid of depth, but who really exhibits depth or even good judgment when they are so happily in love? Bruce has it bad.

In “This Life” the listener can hear overtones of The River, yet where The River gave us desperation and want, “This Life” only emulates the sounds while filling us with the heart palpitations of a new love when he sings, “with you I have been blessed, what more can you expect?” On “My Lucky Day”, Bruce woos with, “In the dark of fierce exile, I felt the grace of your smile.” Lyrics like these can make one think Bruce wrote these songs while attending a wedding and taking notes as the vows are being recited.

Bruce fails to paint landscapes rich with the lyrical imagery he set as precedent on most of his previous offerings. “Outlaw Pete,” the introductory song on the album which lasts for eight hard to listen to minutes, seems to be set as a showcase for the E Street Band as Bruce sits this one out, but even the E Street Band loses focus and lacks the playful back and forth that they usually have such fun with. After two minutes I was looking for an out, checked the iPod and saw six more minutes were left. I felt like a traitor as I skipped to more pulse revving tracks.

The highlights of the entire album are two very diverse songs. The first is the last track on the album, the Golden-Globe winning song “The Wrestler.” Poignant, vivid, and desolate, it shows the classic Springsteen spirit of struggle and introspection. “Have you ever seen a one trick pony in the field so happy and free, if you've ever seen a one trick pony then you've seen me.” These are the Springsteen lyrics that we crave, these are the lyrics that make the listener lean in and study and ask themselves if they can see themselves within the words that he crafts and many can say yes, they can see themselves. Who among us haven't been so beaten by circumstance or by place that even the most precious of our comforts don't seem like they are even ours anymore? That is the depth of the human experience that Springsteen can tap into with surgical precision. “Good Eye” is a dirty grinding blues number that stands in volatile contrast to “The Wrestler.” Where “The Wrestler” delivers haunting echoes of self-doubt and defeat, “Good Eye” rails about riches and love under the watchful eye of suspicion. “I had all of the riches, I had each and every one, but I had my good eye to the dark and my blind eye to the sun.” Springsteen channels Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and even the Springsteen from Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. It is the song that makes me drop to my knees and air-guitar and see a swarming throng of imaginary fans holding up their cell phones to persuade me into an encore. It is the song that pushes me to not give up hope on this album full of puppy-dog hope.

“I always leave with less than I had before,” Springsteen sings on “The Wrestler.” I do not want to feel like that with this album. I will continue to listen to it. I will shuffle it into the mix on the iPod and learn to love each and every tune. No matter how long it takes, because the Bruce from my past deserves that.

–KC Kirkpatrick

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