March 2009

Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
Columbia Records 88697 41355 2
Format: CD
Released: 2009

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Bruce Springsteen’s Working on a Dream is his fourth album of new material in seven years, not an unusual rate of productivity for most rock musicians but a show of consistency for one who before 2002 had released 11 new recordings in 22 years. While Springsteen's last few records have been well crafted, they had a sense of urgency and earnestness that didn't always make for an engaging listen -- he seemed to be carrying the weight of history on his shoulders. The exception was The Seeger Sessions (2006), where he played and sang with a loose abandon he hadn't allowed himself since Born in the USA.

At first listen, Working on a Dream sounds like a companion to last year’s outing with the E Street Band, Magic, but the new disc feels more relaxed and more open to life's joys. It also seems more open to all the music that has poured into Springsteen's consciousness. With its echoes of the Byrds, the Beach Boys, and other influences, Working On a Dream sounds like the work of a musician trying to rediscover what he loved about rock'n'roll.

Working on a Dream is more sonically experimental than many of Springsteen’s discs, perhaps because of producer Brendan O'Brien 's influence. "Life Itself" employs a twelve-string guitar in the manner of the Byrds and a backwards-taped guitar solo reminiscent of the Beatles. Lyrically, Springsteen lightens up a bit, and the results are mixed. "Outlaw Pete" and "Queen of the Supermarket" feel tossed off, but "What Love Can Do" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" rank with his best work. Working On a Dream has less clotted sound than Magic, but O’Brien still insists on burying some of the best bits, such as the late Danny Federici’s organ playing, in the mix.

Working on a Dream feels transitional, a stop on the way to the Boss's next destination, which, based on historical trends, we should see in about two years.