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It seems strange reviewing a Xmas present - it's a bit like going to the pub before Xmas dinner to show off your new jumper or shirt. Except, today, I am not flaunting any new clothes only one man's album. Springstein's, Working on a Dream. I was already familiar with the tracks on the album because I spend many, many hours late at night tuned into youtube singing along with Bruce with my headphones on while my neighbours sleep silently in their city beds. I didn't expect to receive the album as a present but boy I was excited when I opened the wrapper.
To start with this is a great CD cover. Bruce's profile is one of thoughtfulness but with a slight wry smile underneath those dark eyebrows. The night sky of dark blue with the odd twinkling star is a perfect contrast for the man dressed in black. Inside the accompanying booklet each page is attractively designed showing all the lyrics and towards the end we have Bruce walking through fields of gold with his guitar held down low. Not forgetting the back cover of a man deep in thought with an acoustic guitar held very tightly to his heart. The art work suggests a thoughtful, creative album with a deep sense of romance.
Now, I can't compare it with other albums because I don't have all his albums. Having been a fan of punk I never really 'got into' Springstein so I have only known this rock legend for two years and the scores of tracks I have listened to are from youtube and a couple of albums I own but I can never remember which tracks belong to which albums. I have read a lot of reviews and some people think this is an average album and that Springstein hasn't created anything new - well I have to disagree.
He may not have created anything new as such but the production of the album is different. It has a sound of Phil Spector, although a bit cleaner with plenty of over dubs, up beat and sunny rhythms. On a couple of tracks he is singing in a very low key - probably the bottom of his range. I like it . I love the backing vocals; here Bruce and Patti Sciafla create a layered, dreamy and romantic feel.
There are many things I love about Springstein's character but the characteristic I love the most is his optimism and the title track portrays one of those very special and timely moments of unabashed optimism. It isn't the best song on the album but one you will find yourself singing to over and over again and feel uplifted with doing so.
Outlaw Pete - the first track is a winner. It has all those sounds that remind me of being a kid growing up with westerns and Clint Eastwood. I love the changes of tempo, wailing harmonicas, multi layered textured sound of the strings that reminds me a bit of Divine Comedy, and a chugging cello. It all builds up into one crescendo after another with Bruce lyrically asking Pete if he can hear him. Wonderful stuff - even though the song is meant to be light-hearted the sound of the cello and his haunting voice brings a tear to my eye.
We all know what a great story teller The Boss is - on this album he tells a story or two in a very romantic way. His vocals are different - not the vocals belonging to the rock legend as we know him but a richer, deeper, more open voice - sometimes very folky. On the track; Life Itself, I hear a sound that is new to me from Springstein - a touch of The Byrds, I think. I love the rough, unevenly cut of the guitar that almost sounds like a sitar and the intimate vocal harmonies that you can also hear on the raunchy little rock number - What Love Can Do.
It's very difficult to choose a favourite song because I like all the tracks. My Lucky Day is a top number - I love the sloppy piano on this and the way it rocks along. It is a happy song where all the band get involved and just listen to those spluttering cymbals. When listening to this track - check out the DVD which comes with the CD - it's just great to watch and see his face as they record - one minute full of thought - next minute - he's giggling like a small child. It's a gem to watch.
Two tracks that I love equally are Queen of the Supermarket and the title track from the film; The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke.
Queen of the Supermarket is a song I can never get out of my head. I love the tonal quality of his voice and the lyrics are wonderful. After 40 years in the business he can still knock out a tune and lyrics that make my heart miss a beat. Check out these words from the lonely man who is obsessed with the girl at the checkout.
There's a wonderful world where all you desire
And everything you've longed for is at your fingertips
Where the bittersweet taste of life is at your lips
Where aisles and aisles of dreams await you
And the cool promise of ecstasy fills the air
At the end of each working day she's waiting there
I'm in love with the queen of the supermarket
As the evening sky turns blue
A dream awaits in aisle number two
As for The Wrestler (Bonus Track) - I must have listened to this track a million times as well as seen the film over and over. I know every scene of the film word by word. But what do I think to the song? Very simple - no more than three chords. But the honesty of the lyrics, the delivery of the words, the subtle production of the track and Bruce's tired and weary voice make this a winner if not my favourite track. Every word, every line, every emotion tells the story of the Ram's life and you could say, Mickey Rourke's life too. This is where Springstein excels as a songwriter.
Finally, The Last Carnival - a eulogy for Dan Federici who sadly died last year of cancer. A plaintive poem dedicated to a comrade the band all loved. Here Bruce sounds choked and sad;
They're taking all the tents down
Where have you gone my handsome Billy?
The carnival train's leavin' town
Where are you now my darlin' Billy?
This song doubles as the follow up of Wild Billy's Circus Song which Springsteen wrote in 1973. He's trying to tell us that life on the road in a rock band has the same romantic notion as life in the circus and how sad it is to lose a member of the troop. A beautiful, simple, song that elicits deep sympathy.
An added bonus apart from the track, The Wrestler, is a 40 minute DVD which is a documentary featuring the behind the scenes of the recording sessions of the album. It is an excellent bonus. You can see this on youtube but it's much better to own it. It's interesting to see the many faces behind The Boss and just how serious and professional he is about his music. Even more interesting for me and lovely to watch is how many times he smiles and laughs out loud.
So to all those critics out there who think Springstein has lost his way I can only say that you have been misinformed. As far as I'm concerned the kid from Long Branch, New Jersey who bought his first guitar for 18 dollars at the age of 13 is still going strong and doing alright.
Bruce Springsteen was good when my mum was young enough to wear stilettos and a mini-skirt. His last album is thoroughly bad with the exception of a nice little song, which he wrote for the recent film The Wrestler (which is incidentally very good).
The album opens with a song called Outlaw Pete - there is nothing special musically or lyrically about it - in fact its downright boring. So instead of cutting it from the album, he and his producers decided to make it exceed 8 minutes in length.
Another song Queen of the Supermarket reflects his horny feelings for a cashier who serves him at the shop. Again, the music isn't all that impressive.
The other songs on the album are typical Springsteen - nothing new there, but die-hards will probably like it.
The one stand out on the album is The Wrestler, which details the life of a loser who can only do one thing - wrestle. Without it, the protagonist is nothing. A nice song, but it also has a flaw because it ends after half a verse. Its almost as if the track was accidentally cut. Perhaps they should have made this song 8 mins, not Outlaw Pete.
If you are in love with Brucey, then you will obviously like it, but otherwise its nothing special.
Throughout his career , Bruce Springsteen's musical output has reflected his own personal emotions, sometimes broad, sometimes fiercely personal - Welcome to happy Bruce.
With Obama now in the Whitehouse, Springsteen finds himself in a much more positive frame of mind than on previous albums such as 'Magic' and 'The Rising'. Much of the material here deals with personal issues, around relationships, wish fulfillment (Queen of the Supermarket) and the contentment of being in love (My Lucky Day).
Where on previous records, melody has been overtaken by message (The Ghost of Tom Joad), this record is melodically very strong. Unfortunately, this seems to have had a negative effect on the lyrics. Although heartfelt, some of these tales seem trite and overly simplistic, especially for a man who has penned some of the most relevent, passionate lines in the history of rock and roll.
This album acts as a counterpoint to 'Tunnel of Love' - whereas that record focused on broken relationships, self loathing and personal uncertainly, 'Working on a Dream' offers the flip side to that particular coin - Unfortunately, Bruce finds it difficult to match his underrated 80's classic
I have been lucky enough to hear a promotional copy of this album, which even at this early stage of the year, I can confidently say, is one of THE albums of 2009.
No doubt, you'll have heard the title track Working On A Dream, which I think is one of the best Springsteen has EVER written. The rest of the album is of the same consistently high quality we have come to expect from Springsteen. This album is also much like Magic, an even more mature take on his music with songs like the title track and The Wrestler, but there are also songs which hark back to the Springsteen we first knew and which drew us in to his music in the first place, such as the song My Lucky Day.
I know the producer he worked with is the same one who produced Magic with him (in more ways than one) but the sound reminds me a lot of the style of Rick Rubin as a producer, who has worked on Neil Diamond's last 2 albums 12 Songs and Home Before Dark, as well as working on some of Johnny Cash's later releases, so if you liked these sounds, you will love Working On A Dream.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Outlaw Pete
2 My Lucky Day
3 Working On a Dream
4 Queen of the Supermarket
5 What Love Can Do
6 This Life
7 Good Eye
8 Tomorrow Never Knows
9 Life Itself
10 Kingdom of Days
11 Surprise, Surprise
12 The Last Carnival
13 The Wrestler (bonus track)