Release Date: Jan 27, 2009
Record label: Columbia
Since reuniting the ?E Street Band in concert in 1999, Bruce Springsteen has brought that lineup back into the studio to record two widely praised albums. ?As successful as that return has been, though, both 2002’s The Rising and 2007’s Magic came from painful places — one an effort to heal after 9/11, the other a bitter Bush-era protest. Working on a Dream, the third E Street Band album of the ?new millennium, feels like a sigh of relief by contrast.
Perhaps it's a relief that, despite the implications of its title, Working On a Dream is not a state of the nation address. At the dawn of the presidency of a man who recently said he had put himself up for the job only when he finally concluded that he could never be Bruce Springsteen, these 13 songs offer not even the most oblique of references to public affairs. The best of them concentrate on states of the heart, but with an openness and an optimism that seem unclouded by wider doubts and fears, as if in recognition of a need for consolation.
When a legal tussle kept Springsteen out the studio in 1976, "the future of rock'n'roll" kept his hand in by touring hits that had shaped his teenage years: über-pop like Manfred Mann's Pretty Flamingo and Johnny Rivers' Mountain of Love. On his 24th album, Springsteen reaches for the simple power and unabashed romanticism of early pop. The customary Bruce, mumbling through his nose about cars and railroads, or howling blue-collar dreams over blustering rock, is still present.
“I’ll put The Rising, Magic, and the new one against any other three records we’ve made in a row, as far as sound, depth, and purpose," Bruce Springsteen tells David Fricke in this month's Rolling Stone, the man's 14th cover story. Despite the qualifications, the quote is an eyebrow-raiser, blocked out for effect. But it's not ridiculous. Unlike pretty much every other member of the sainted rock fraternity, when Bruce puts out an album, it's still potential fodder for the canon.
Inspired by the promise of Barack Obama and perhaps the potential windfall of having a new album for sale right after performing at the inauguration, Bruce Springsteen has completed the follow-up to 2007's Magic in record time. The speedy turnaround may have worked in his favour; the Boss's recent releases have been overwrought in their composition, performance and production. That's not to suggest that he knocked out the songs for Working On A Dream live off the studio floor, but he seems content to settle for decent heartland narratives colourfully related rather than trying turn each tune into a teaching moment with profound moral consequences for humanity.
By now, the story is famous. Bruce Springsteen, driving down the road after 9/11, pulled up at a stoplight, only to be accosted by a fan. Springsteen, by then living in relative obscurity after a decade of low-key solo albums without the E Street Band, never expected that a national disaster would reignite his creativity. “We need you—now!” the fan shouted, and the Boss rediscovered his muse.
From its bright, brittle production to its tossed-off postage stamp cover art, Working on a Dream is in every respect a companion piece to Magic, an album that's merely a set of songs, both sprawling and deliberately small, songs that don't necessarily tackle any one major theme but all add up to a portrait of their time. Magic chronicled the dog days of Bush where Working on a Dream is designed as a keynote to the Obama age, released just a week after the inauguration of the U. S.
Rare is the artist that can honestly say they're both recording and relevant after thirtysomething years - Kraftwerk managed it by dint of their return earlier this decade, while Neil Young and Lou Reed can both be arguably included on the list, but, so far, that's about it. Unless you count Bruce Springsteen, of course, and, really, why wouldn't you? In recent times he's become an indispensable critical touchstone thanks to the likes of The Hold Steady and The Delta Spirit (with even, lest we forget, The Killers paying lip service), he was responsible for the first album to really comment on the Bush administration (years before TV On The Radio did so to such striking effect), and he also happens to be the rock star most closely associated with, currently, the most famous politician in the world. Basically, he's never been so vital.
After a long-ish period whereby it seemed that Bruce Springsteen had gone into semi-retirement (essentially the 1990s), this decade has seen New Jersey's favourite son's re-emergence as the pre-eminent singer songwriter of the post-sixties generation. Spurred on by a nation in troubled times, both The Rising and Magic were records that had something to say; part of his self-described "ongoing conversation with the American people". This time, however, the lack of a social agenda is palpable.
Somewhere along the way, Bruce Springsteen realized that it was time to get back to his pop sensibilities. Those same feelings that allowed him to write many of the greatest songs of our time and frankly, of all time. And after his strong resurgence with 2002’s The Rising, the immense legend has since turned in gem after gem. He’s turning 60 years young this coming September and with fifteen studio albums under his belt, we are greeted with sweet sixteen, Working on a Dream.
First and foremost, Bruce Springsteen has realized that oft-evoked rock & roll ideal almost never pulled off since Sgt. Pepper replaced singles with the album. Boss struck while the iron was hot. Because everyone who saw Springsteen & the E Street Band live over the last two years behind 2007's Magic will assuredly raise their hands to rock.