BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: WORKING ON A DREAM (2009)
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/Good Eye; 7) Tomorrow Never Knows; 8) Life Itself; 9) Kingdom Of Days; 10) Surprise, Surprise; 11) The Last Carnival; 12*) The Wrestler.
This one was released seven days after Obama's inauguration — coincidence? Perhaps, but the fact that the mood here is way more sunny and optimistic than it was on Magic is not a coincidence at all, especially keeping in mind that the title track was first played live at the November 2, 2008 concert in support of Obama, two days before the general elections. And now comes the blatant question: do you prefer your Springsteen morose and grumpy, or do you prefer him humorous, lightweight, and idealistically optimistic?
Of course, it really depends on a lot of other factors. ʽWorking On A Dreamʼ (the song), for instance, is a sunny power pop anthem that feels more like Christine McVie than Springsteen, possibly because the "aa-ooh la-la-la, aa-ooh la-la-la" backing vocals had been borrowed directly from ʽSay You Love Meʼ (it's true, I swear!) and possibly because Bruce was all set to beat Bill Clinton's success with ʽDon't Stopʼ. Like, Americans all over the States heard the song on November 2 and the fate of the elections was sealed, you know. But that doesn't prevent the tune from sounding a wee bit silly and manipulative in retrospect.
Not as silly, granted, as ʽQueen Of The Supermarketʼ, which arguably features the worst extended lyrical metaphor of the man's career — okay, there's nothing wrong about writing yet another story of sexual attraction between two simple people, but "take my place in the check-out line"? "I'm in love with the Queen of the Supermarket, though her company cap covers her hair"? Worst of all, "beneath her white apron her secret remains hers"? Boy, we've come a really long way since ʽIncident On 57th Streetʼ and the like. At least if there were some indication that this is an intentional tongue-in-cheek self-parody or something... apparently, though, this is an UN-intentional self-parody, ohmygosh.
The embarrassment does not stop there, because the real burning question that has gone unanswered since 2009 is this: Does the sprawling quasi-Western epic ʽOutlaw Peteʼ consciously nick the primary melody of KISS' ʽI Was Made For Loving Youʼ, or is this just a really unfortunate coincidence? Never mind that the lyrics of the song are once again triter than tripe (just put the words next to, say, ʽJunglelandʼ, and see for yourself how fickle that poetic gift is) — why does this have to sound like a cross between Tommy ("can you hear me? can you hear me?") and a three-decade old corny disco song? Was that a serious attempt at breaking away from the formula? Well, ʽOutlaw Peteʼ is a strong breakaway from the formula, but the price is just too high.
And even that is not all: why does the song ʽTomorrow Never Knowsʼ borrow its title from the Beatles and its scratch-guitar opening from CCR's ʽLooking Out My Back Doorʼ, yet ends up sounding like neither, but instead turns out to be a simple, fast-paced country tune with steel guitar and female backing vocals a-plenty? Why do I actually have this strange uncomfortable feeling that Bruce's desire to make a cheerful «roots-pop» album has lessened the gap between himself and his compatriots, Bon Jovi, in their «country» phase?..
Yes, about half of these songs have sunny pop hooks that might even get entangled in some of your nerve nodes (ʽSurprise, Surpriseʼ is a good example: you might reasonably complain about the word "surprise" being repeated way too many times, but it'll still get you), but this is still Bruce Springsteen, you know — all these slight, simple pop hooks are imbued with his sweaty earthiness, and thus, it is a simplistic, lightweight record that demands to be taken as seriously as ever. Which is where we have a communicative failure. How can you take Bruce Springsteen seriously when he's (sub)consciously stealing melodies from KISS, for Christ's sake? Oh well, at least that is a bizarre oddity that does go against formula. But most of the songs here do not go against formula, and stuff like ʽQueen Of The Supermarketʼ just parodies the formula (honestly, it's the kind of tune I'd expect to see featured in some SNL broadcast).
On the positive side, this is really the Boss at his happiest since... Lucky Town, I guess, which probably makes Working On A Dream the relative equivalent of that album for the next decade. Not exactly a compliment, I know, but we should be glad to see other people in happy moods, shouldn't we? After all, it's not as if he'd give us another Darkness On The Edge Of Town now even if America invaded half of the world's countries at once, so we might as well relax and give the man a break. If he wants to flirt around with supermarket clerks, that's none of our business, it's all between the man and Patti anyway.