Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Working On A Dream': The Review

Springsteen’s stock is on the rise at present what with the Golden Globe award, the Obama inauguration and the highly successful tour to support the ‘Magic’ album.

So, with the creative juices in full flow, Springsteen headed back to the studio to hopefully capture the zest of the recent activities with the backing of the E-Street Band.

The following is a track-by-track analysis of the resulting album ‘Working On A Dream’, is it an energised improvement on the decidedly patchy ‘Magic’ or another rush-released disappointment ?

1. Outlaw Pete: A sprawling 8 minute opener with some archetypal Bruce storytelling lyrics. Not as epic as it wants to be and it probably doesn’t sustain its length, but its a very solid beginning to the album, great chorus. So far, so good.

2. My Lucky Day: An insipid uptempo rocker, that attempts to be buoyant and joyous but ends up mired in lyrical and musical clichés, with a paint-by-numbers sax solo and swinging drumbeat.

3. Working On A Dream: The title track is too overtly self-referential to be considered a serious new song, haven’t we been down this road a hundred times before Bruce ?

4. Queen Of The Supermarket: An excellent Springsteen title, but the song itself is short on real quality. The best point of reference would be something introspective from the ‘The River’ album. Passable.

5. What Love Can Do: Hard to get excited by this, a bit too polished for its own good. Only a decent guitar solo lifts the boredom somewhat.

6. This Life: A major improvement, very reminiscent of 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes', without hitting the heights of that song. There's a definite 'Pet Sounds' era Beach Boys influence in the production, melody and clustered vocals.

7. Good Eye: This is interesting. Classic Springsteen throaty vocal backed by a thunderous blues workout. Good harmonica too. One of the best tracks on the album. Bruce Springsteen meets Alabama 3 sounds strange, but it works.

8. Tomorrow Never Knows: Bruce goes country. I wish he hadn’t.

9. Life Itself: This at least has some promise, you can imagine the band turning it into a live favourite. One of the few moments on the album that threatens to rise above the mediocre.

10. Kingdom Of Days: aka Bruce Springsteen sleepwalking his way through another filler track.

11. Surprise, Surprise: The truly execrable lyrics mean Bruce is fighting an uphill battle to turn this average rocker into something acceptable. He fails.

12. Last Carnival: Bruce goes carny with the first circus reference since ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ (1973)! Clearly this is the best thing on the album. He finally strips away the layers of production and sings with acoustic backing and the massed vocals of the band. A transcendent moment.

13. The Wrestler: Most versions of the album come with this bonus track from the movie of the same name. Excellent stripped back song, with some superb lyrics and a cutting vocal.

A saccharine, over-produced and tame album with too many generic melodies and sugary sentiments. The mood of the album is one of hope and contentment, reflecting the anticipation of the Obama era, but this doesn't make for a ground-breaking listening experience.

On the plus side, Springsteen delivers a wide palette of styles making this his most diverse album to date, but he ultimately fails to deliver a knock-out blow in any of his chosen genres.

The radio friendly sound will make it popular amongst the casual listeners, but the hardened fans will be waiting for the next solo acoustic album.

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