Monday, January 12, 2009

Working On a Dream

Bruce Springsteen's "Working On a Dream" is due to be released on January 27. It finally leaked all over the internet today, so I've spent an some time with it this evening.

Some of the early chatter I heard for this album was pretty bad. So... it's, it's, it's not as bad as that. How 'bout that? There are a few high points, and maybe at this point that should be enough.

From the beginning. ok, there's "Outlaw Pete." What is this thing? I listen, and for whatever reason I'm hearing "Funeral for a Friend" or some such. But while I suppose a song can repeat the same 5 notes over and over and over, and over and over and over again and again and again, and be interesting and good ("Born in the USA," for example), "Outlaw Pete," isn't. At least not yet. To me. On first listen I don't really take in the lyrics, but with a terrible clunker in the 2nd verse ("a mustang pony he did steal," ick!), I imagine I won't be thrilled when I see the full lyrics sheet. So it's fast here, slow there, violins one place and guitars another, here an echo and there the voice bared, and I gotta say I don't much care for the experiment.

But after 8 minutes of that, "My Lucky Day" came roaring in as a great relief, just 4 minutes of straight-forward rock. I was glad my iTunes was set to truncate the between-song time by two seconds, the effect was wonderful. This is maybe the most "E Street" track on the album. Here's Steve Van Zandt singing harmony on the 2nd verse. And now here comes Danny Federici's organ (I assume; I hadn't checked the album credits but that's him, it can't be otherwise), in the perfect place as an old friend should be. And Clarence Clemons, with his one brief shining moment on the album. I don't even have to hear the words, it's my lucky day.

"Working on a Dream" is, for me, the wrong song for the wrong time. It's working on a cliche, but in the context of the album I don't cringe quite so much. By now I'm starting to wonder why Bruce is singing in the upper register on every song. just seems so strained there.

The rest? "Queen of the Supermarket" is a wacky 4th cousin once removed of "I Wanna Marry You" and "Jersey Girl," not that Bruce impresses me as the Shop-Rite type. It's a seeming Dusty Springfield take-off, at least until it all strangely falls apart in the final minute, first with a gratuitous lyric and then a musical departure to parts unknown. Is that a scanner? Oh, well. "What Love Can Do" must be forgettable, because I have forgotten it. But now it rolls around again as I'm writing... what is that, Beau Brummels? Maybe he could play this one live.

The nods continue with "This Life," with "Pet Sounds"-era Beach Boys being the reference. "Good Eye" is a throw-away blues featuring the bullet mike. But Bruce pulls it off so seemingly effortlessly that I find myself wishing for an album of blues throwaways. The lead-in to "Tomorrow Never Knows" reminds me a bit of CCRs "Lookin' Out My Back Door," and is nearly as sweet. The solo in "Life Itself" is interesting enough, either backwards or at least made to sound that way. The 12-string seems a nod to "Eight Mile High" era Byrds, but the music reminds more of Bruce's own "Missing." "Kingdom of Days" and "Surprise, Surprise" sound more or less like "Magic" outtakes. Kingdom has Bruce's first "I love you I love you I love you I do" chorus while channeling a bit of "Girls in Their Summer Clothes." Beatlish flourishes accent "Surprise, Surprise"; I suppose it's nice to have Bruce sing his very own happy happy birthday song to sing, with Patti joining in at the end.

"The Last Carnival" is nearly worth the price of admission to the midway. An instant tear-jerker, with Danny Federici cast in to the role of darling Wild Billy. It's over too fast.

The bonus track, "The Wrestler," is the prize winner... literally now. Maybe the greatest song ever about people and animals missing various limbs.

It'd be a nice thought that Bruce could still come up with something new, rather than nods to this and references to that. Maybe he still can. In the meantime, this isn't so awful, is it?