In the film Search and Destroy, Dennis Hopper’s character says “Just because it happened to you doesn’t make it interesting.” That profound statement can be molded and applied to this new Springsteen album – just because it happened to Bruce doesn’t make it worth listening to. Thankfully, we’re plenty far removed from Bruce’s career touchstones and his most recent works can stand somewhat on their own. In that respect, Working on a Dream (CD – MP3) is no Devils and Dust.
Recorded with The E Street Band, Working on a Dream contains an abundance of what we’ve all heard before – the mid-tempo rock anthems, sorta-soul sax work and choruses, and numbingly simple song structures are all in place, as are the Boss’ standard vocal work. Maybe it’s that Bruce is no longer timely, or maybe he just doesn’t really have the inspiration needed to make his ghostly crooning relevant, but there’s a forced quality to the songs on this album that makes listening uncomfortable. No amount of strings can add spirit to bland offerings like the fantastically boring “Kingdom of Days,” the treacly “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the intolerably dull title track or the infinitely forgettable faux-folk of “Outlaw Pete.” “Queen of the Supermarket” is an admirable attempt at getting back to the rootsy working-class metaphors that made him, but the track still turns out to be an overblown, needlessly dense yawner.
There are a few moments of that genuine Springsteen chug-a-lug to be found here, like the energetic “My Lucky Day,” in which he actually manages to sound honest and the band makes some sparks fly like they used to, and “What Love Can Do,” where brevity and guitars rule the day. Working on a Dream is the sound of freedom, as in, Bruce can do whatever the hell he wants at this point and use stellar musicians to do it (hello Nils Lofgren, Clarence Clemmons, Steven Van Zandt, Max Weinberg, etc), but at what cost to his legacy?