Working On a Dream
There are certain artists lucky enough to make it to a point in their career where they just know how to make a good album. You dutifully listen to their latest release, and you never mind it. You don't ever press the skip button. The songs do what you expect them to do. The lyrics talk about what you expect them to talk about. Sounds are made that echo the great works the artist has produced in the past, and it makes you smile, like an inside joke with an old friend. Bruce Springsteen unquestionably knows what it takes to make a good album. Whether or not that is a good thing is another matter.
Yes, all the music in Working On a Dream meets your expectations. But it doesn't surprise you. Unlike his last album, Magic, which wasn't quite a masterpiece, but felt like one at times, there's nothing here to make you believe you are listening to the next highlight in a career scattered with genius. Take opening track "Outlaw Pete": it is either the sound of Springsteen making fun of himself, or he's flat run out of lyrical ideas. Humourously, it uses the four note sequence found in "To the Stars," used in countless trailers since its first appearance in Randy Edelman's score for Dragonheart, to trick us into being moved. That note sequence is making a comeback; it also springs up this year in U2's latest.
There are moments where Springsteen admirably attempts to stretch a musical palette that has served him well for almost forty years now; "This Life" is draped in Beach Boys harmonies, and "Surprise, Surprise" is The Boss meets The Byrds. The latter of the two could see its way onto future, comprehensive best ofs, along with "My Lucky Day," a song that makes up for its unoriginality with plentiful enthusiasm. That's probably the best way to describe this whole album; after the dark and dreary atmosphere around Magic, Working On a Dream sounds like The Boss is having fun again. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band- who go blasphemously uncredited on this release- are enjoying themselves, and that's almost enough to carry the album. Almost.