Working on a Dream
There are two singer-songwriters active on the music scene today, who have very successfully managed to transcend eras – from the classic to the contemporary – and who are every bit as popular today as they were then. One is the British frontman of the now-defunct Dire Straits: Mark Knopfler. The second comes from across the Atlantic: the Boss aka Bruce Springsteen. And both Knopfler and Springsteen are masters in the art of storytelling – they paint vivid pictures using the most simple words and sometimes using nothing more than a guitar to accompany their gravelly vocals.
It is this very simplistic beauty that shines across on every single track on Springsteen’s latest (and his 16th) studio album, Working on a Dream, the title track for which was first performed for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Sample, for instance, the album-opening portrait of “Outlaw Pete” – “He was born a little baby on the Appalachian Trail/At six months old he'd done three months in jail/He robbed a bank in his diapers and his little bare baby feet/All he said was ‘Folks, my name is Outlaw Pete’.” Or look at the album closer, another portrait, this time of “The Wrestler” (which got Springsteen the Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Movie) – “I come and stand at every door/I always leave with less than I had before/Bet I can make you smile when the blood it hits the floor/Tell me friend can you ask for anything more.”
And packed in between these two majestic bookends are 11 other songs that span as many different sounds. “My Lucky Day” is your classic Springsteen cut – perfect for blasting on your car stereo. The title track, “Working on a Dream,” is classic Springsteen too – full of the optimism that made him a working class hero when he started off some 35 years ago. Then there is “Surprise, Surprise” with a super-hooky chorus that sneaks into your head and lodges itself there. “Good Eye” is the Boss’ growling take on the blues and “The Last Carnival” is his elegant tribute to close friend and longtime bandmate, Danny Federici, who passed away last year.
Springsteen began writing Working on a Dream soon after he finished 2007’s Magic, and started recording it in between breaks in the Magic tour. But do not take these as outtakes or rejects from that album: each song on Working on a Dream is a robust entity by itself. Especially if you are willing to give them the fair chance. Because if you give these songs the chance, all of the characters and places that Springsteen introduces us to, will become your friends. Perhaps, it’s too early to call this a classic album, but Working on a Dream is certainly one of Springsteen’s finest records.
© Bobin James, 2009