Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream (Cover Artwork)

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen: Working on a DreamWorking on a Dream (2009)
Sony Music

Reviewer Rating: 2.5
User Rating:

Contributed by: JeloneJelone
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Ladies and gentleman, the Second Coming of Bruce Springsteen is about to end. Beginning with 2002's The Rising, the Boss has had an excellent comeback run of political albums during the George W. Bush administration. The Rising helped heal America's wounds post-9/11, while Devils & Dust, We Shall Ov.
iTunes StoreAmazon

Ladies and gentleman, the Second Coming of Bruce Springsteen is about to end. Beginning with 2002's The Rising, the Boss has had an excellent comeback run of political albums during the George W. Bush administration. The Rising helped heal America's wounds post-9/11, while Devils & Dust, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions and Magic took the country's government to task for its war profiteering abroad and ignorance towards mounting domestic issues. But with Bush out and Barack Obama in, Springsteen struggles to find relevance, or at least a solid collection of pop songs, on Working on a Dream, his 16th studio album. It's by no means a bad album, but it is middling and uneven, much like Tunnel of Love, the last decent record Springsteen released before his '90s creative dry spell.

The record tiresomely opens with "Outlaw Pete," an eight-minute Western epic that's aesthetically on par with Bob Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," just with way more overblown orchestral flourishes. That's not the first song comparison that will come to listeners' minds, though. Magic producer Brendan O'Brien returns to again bury Bruce's simple songs in Phil Spector-ish layers of strings and backup vocals, so I'm not sure who to blame for the background melody on "Outlaw Pete." All I do know is that it cops a feel off of the first half of the melody to Kiss' "I Was Made for Lovin' You." It's a minor detail -- five notes -- but it's the sort of sudden jolt that derails the whole tune. Like a friend who uncharacteristically drops a racial slur, those five notes become more and more bizarre and grating with every listen (and give a little more credence to the accusation that Springsteen ripped off Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny" for "Radio Nowhere"). Now, the song is already in a bad way for its nearly comical Western theme. I can't comprehend why "Outlaw Pete" would bite "I Was Made for Lovin' You" when it's (A) fairly well-known, (B) not particularly well-liked, and (C) freaking disco-metal. The song's running length adds a third reason to press "skip" right after "play."

Track two, "My Lucky Day," makes "Outlaw Pete" seem like a misstep. It's half as long and twice as catchy. The lyrics have a gambling theme going, but they're vague enough that the tune could be about anything -- a good night at Atlantic City or a love song to Barry Obama. Really, it's not important to feel the words on this one too much. The beat is quick, the guitars are rocking and Clarence Clemons swoops in with his trademark sax to ensure that "My Lucky Day" stands out as one of the best tracks on the record. Then "Working on a Dream" starts.

"Working on a Dream" has got to be the most lazily assembled Springsteen song ever. The guy used to cram his songs with description and frenetic rhyme schemes; here, he settles for repeating the song's title for like two-thirds of its running time. That dream must really take some workin'. "Working on a Dream" is the second clunker on the album. "Queen of the Supermarket" adds a third thanks to tepid production, a stupid story and the lamest use of "fuck" since The Ghost of Tom Joad's "My Best Was Never Good Enough." Profanity can emphasize emotions, but with Bruce it just feels like a crutch.

"What Love Can Do" evens the keel out, at least musically. The lyrics repeat the sex/religion duality used on Magic's "I'll Work for Your Love" to less effect. It's a watered down repeat, but it beats "Queen of the Supermarket." After that, the record enters a mid-album malaise. O'Brien's production ensures that the songs at least sound like Magic's slick rock, but again, the melodies and words just aren't quite there. O'Brien pulls back slightly on "Tomorrow Never Knows," a subtle country track that would've fit in fine on the similarly stripped Devils & Dust. Love song "Life Itself" begins the record's ascent back up. Bruce's vocal take is restrained compared to the bravado of "Outlaw Pete"; it's a refreshing moment of tranquility. Working on a Dream often struggles to find the Big Rock Statements© that came so easily on The Rising. But when Springsteen settles into pretty-sounding quiet songs like "Life Itself," he can actually be quite moving.

The somber double dose of "The Last Carnival," a sequel to "Wild Billy's Circus Story" from The Wild, The Innocent, And the E Street Shuffle, and "The Wrestler," an ode to Mickey Rourke's stripper-loving, heart attack-having character Randy the Ram from the acclaimed film of the same name, close out the record. These later tracks' humility and better lyrics redeem Working on a Dream slightly, recalling the similarly somber Tunnel of Love. In a lot of ways, Working on a Dream and Tunnel of Love feel connected. Both work best at their quietest. Both follow uneven yet hugely successful rock records (Magic / Born in the U.S.A.). Both caught the artist in the middle of switching gears (hating Bush / hating Ronald Reagan). And both marked an end to Springsteen's creative cycles (2009/1987, although I do want to state for the record that 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad wasn't too bad). Unlike Working on a Dream, though, Tunnel of Love had the good sense not to rip off Kiss.


People who liked this also liked:
American Steel - Dear Friends and Gentle HeartsThe Gaslight Anthem - Señor and the QueenThe Gaslight Anthem - The '59 SoundAmerican Steel - Rogue's MarchBomb the Music Industry! - VacationAlkaline Trio - This AddictionAgainst Me! - Transgender Dysphoria BluesBomb the Music Industry! - ScramblesJeff Rosenstock - I Look Like ShitDan Andriano - Hurricane Season

Please login or register to post comments.What are the benefits of having a Punknews.org account?
  • Share your opinion by posting comments on the stories that interest you
  • Rate music and bands and help shape the weekly top ten
  • Let Punknews.org use your ratings to help you find bands and albums you might like
  • Customize features on the site to get the news the way you want.
Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Dedricthere (June 20, 2010)

The edited version of The Wrestler loses all it's fuckin' power.

gritty (February 5, 2009)

I agree that the album is pretty weak, but happen to think Outlaw Petes a pretty rockn tune. The Wrestler is a great track. I think the Boss could have done without releasing this album, but at least we get a tour out of it. Hopefully he'll spare us too many new tracks. Disappointing I guess since Magic was so good, but saw it coming with how quick he released it. Most of the songs sound like throwaways. My Lucky day is terrible, and Queen of the SM maybe his worst ever. Oh well, I didn't pay for it anyway.

briennis (February 2, 2009)

Kinda weird that he decided to do another album of covers so soon after the Seeger Sessions, and it's kinda a dubious choice to cover a band as recent as The Gaslight Anthem for even one song. i'm not sure if he did it to prove he's down with the kids or what, but its pretty atrocious.

SlackMFr (February 1, 2009)

I know many people think Bruce is the shit, but give me Westerberg over him anyday.

damo (February 1, 2009)

don't understand the love for this bloke

Misanthropee (February 1, 2009)

"The Wrestler" is so fucking good.

I'm in the minority but I think both that and "The Fountain" are monumentally better than his other stuff. Everybody effuses over Requiem but I still think it's a cliche-ridden maudlin car crash of wackness. Yeah, it's well-directed, but the script is utter trash. A sheltered rich kid's dated view of worlds he'll never know.

Angiepants (February 1, 2009)

Unfortunate that this really isn't that great at all. Magic was decent. A bit formulaic, but decent; and the rest of his 2000s output was brilliant. Let's hope this doesn't indicate a downward trend and it's just a lull. :(

GarrettIrish (January 31, 2009)

Only song I really liked on this was "The Wrestler".

CCSummers (January 31, 2009)

You didn't even leave a score, after saying "score is for that"
Score is for that

SilentStorms (January 31, 2009)

"redneck cunt"

Ooooooohhhhhh good post. Thanks for that! Score is for that comment.

longshot (January 31, 2009)

Score is for the font used on the alubm cover.
That's just lazy design right there. Lazy, lazy, lazy...

eazyd2 (January 31, 2009)

redneck cunt

SloaneDaley (January 31, 2009)

Magic was great this only alright. It is times like this I wish Gaslight sounded like Bruce as much as people say right now. The Nebraska outtakes are pretty lame.

oskorei (January 31, 2009)

wish it was unreleased or b-side songs from Nebraska.

ksupilot (January 31, 2009)

This is an amazing album. Each song stands out and is good in its own way. I have no idea why you would give it only 2.5 stars.

mikexdude (January 31, 2009)

Great review.

I was never the biggest Springsteen fan, but this is just meh even in meh standards. How's that for a review?

ozmanx (January 30, 2009)

Guess I'm the only one that liked it. Minus 10 punx points for moi.

CCSummers (January 30, 2009)

Total rip off of Gaslight.

pretentiouslikepitchfork (January 30, 2009)

This record was almost as disappointing as Bruce hawking a greatest hits package at Wal-Mart.

Will he apologize for this too?

(and yes, I know this is mostly b-sides . . . but still...this is a shame)

scorpiondeathlock (January 30, 2009)

the wrestler is my favorite song of the year so far.

outside of that and what love can do i really wasnt feeling it dawg. it was just alright for me.

chrisalbino (January 30, 2009)

"surprise surprise" sounds like a church hymn. i like this record though.

genebuonaccorsi (January 30, 2009)

outlaw pete is really fuckin good

scientistrock (January 30, 2009)

DanPerrone, are you challenging me?

danperrone (January 30, 2009)

as the biggest bruce springsteen fan on this website, this album makes me sad as fuck. it's really not good at all. a lot of these songs were b-sides to magic, and they sound like it. the only songs that really stand out are "what love can do" and especially "the wrestler".

14theroad (January 30, 2009)

Score is for score.

And I really liked "Outlaw Pete".

scientistrock (January 30, 2009)

I couldn't get into Magic at all. This isn't great, and "Outlaw Pete" is just horrendous. But it's not bad by any means. Also, I dislike song by song reviews. This was no exception.

Jelone (January 30, 2009)

Yes, really only 2.5 stars. The first half is painful; second half is decent. This is the album Bruce-haters have been waiting to flaunt in fans' faces.

HooverStreet (January 30, 2009)

This is by no means the end of some second golden age. It's obvious that this CD is outtakes from Magic that were rushed together to coincide with the performance at the Super Bowl. If you read the liner notes you will see that his dead organist played on the record. Hi.... how is a dead guy playing on new material? These are outtakes. His next record of new material will be just as good as the Rising, Devils and Dust and all.....

drewshaw (January 30, 2009)

this album i found didnt hit me straight away like magic did. But after giving it a few more listens i found myself loving it more and more.

telegraphrocks (January 30, 2009)

Bruce? So Jersey!

Gaslight? So Bruce!

I have no interest in hearing this, but I did see a homeless-looking man walking around on the streets this morning carrying the LP of this album.

Score's for getting snow in the crack of your ass.

nocigar (January 30, 2009)

I haven't heard this but..wow, really? Only 2.5 stars?

Exclusive Streams


Newest Reviews

Punknews.org Team

Managing Editor

Adam White

Contributing Editors

Kira Wisniewski Brittany Strummer Armando Olivas John Flynn Chris Moran John Gentile Mark Little

Copy Editor

Adam Eisenberg Britt Reiser

Podcast Producer

Greg Simpson


Aubin Paul

ISSN 1710-5366

© Copyright 1999-2013 Punknews.org

Terms of Use Privacy Policy Contact Us About Punknews.org

Other Places to Go