Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I listened to the new Springsteen album "Working on a Dream" twice in succession

and I am not really sure what to say about it. I made the mistake of reading two reviews in the press last week (Jim Derogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times and Spin's featured review) and they were both fairly negative. This unfortunately prepared me to not like the album, but I don't think that's the case. I think I kind of like it. I know I like some of it a lot.

So let's start with the beginning. This is the first Springsteen-with-E-Street album I can think of since Born to Run that doesn't start with a high-energy rock song to get you going--instead it starts with an 8-minute tune called "Outlaw Pete" that totally builds to a deliberate rock pace but takes its time getting there. This is kind of jarring for someone who's used to his Boss records starting off with "Badlands" or "The Ties That Bind." The thing is once "Outlaw Pete" builds to that mid-to-fast rock tempo the rest of the album pretty much stays there until the last couple cuts. There aren't many sensitive valleys, there's little balladry, except for maybe bits and pieces of songs. There's no "Magic" or "I'm on Fire" to bring things down a little. So, yeah, strange.

Mostly, though, I like these songs. "Outlaw Pete" is cool and I really like "My Lucky Day." I'm also a fan of the songs that immediately follow. The album starts to wane for me a little in the middle as Bruce brings in some styles that don't seem to fit, such as the blues/garage rock "Good Eye," where a combination of odd production choices and an affected singing voice make for a jarring listen. I think the album recovers fairly quickly, though, with "Life Itself" and "Kingdom of Days" before hitting what I would consider to be the only really bad song on here, "Surprise, Surprise," whose lyrics (mostly just repeating "surprise, surprise" over and over again) are stretching it even for Bruce, who often can turn silly into poetry but for me misses with this one.

I'm not really sure why this album seems kind of unliked, though. I get the feeling from reading a lot of reviews that people consider it toothless because it's a generally happier record than Springsteen tends to make. Well, that's okay, right? I mean I think the reason I love Bruce Springsteen's music so much is because it covers the emotional spectrum so well, from energizing hope and optimism to down-and-out, nothing-to-live-for despair. This album's 13 songs almost completely reside more in the former category than the latter, and maybe that means that as a whole it is a less satisfying listen, but when thrown in with the Boss's other songs I think tracks like "My Lucky Day," "Working on a Dream" and "Life Itself" will find their home nicely.

I would like to say that I am pretty unequivocally on board with the way this record sounds. I really like producer Brendan O'Brien, who worked with Bruce on The Rising and Magic and more famously produced huge and noteworthy works for Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. I think he has made the E-Street Band sound amazing on his records with them, and I hope their collaboration continues.

Another definitely great thing about this record, and I'm stealing this from Jim Derogatis' review, is that this surely means another Bruce tour is coming soon. That, if nothing else, is a reason to be happy to see this record on the shelves.

No comments: