Working on a Dream

I’m sort of semi-discontinuing the “albums that matter” series to review two new albums that might matter. First up, The Boss. Fresh off his turn as a star of (as he himself would put it) “late night tellyvision”, it seemed a good time to look at his new disc. Actually, last week seemed like a good time, which I thought on Tuesday when I went and bought the album. But my electricity was off until Friday, so the horrific Kentucky ice storm has delayed this blog.

I’ve seen two camps on this. One says, “Wow, it’s brilliant.” Rolling Stone compared the album to Born to Run and gave it five stars. The other camp says “Wow, it sucks.” I noticed that the Courier-Journal gave the album 2 1/2 stars. I’ve seen some longtime Springsteen fans who are arguing that it might be his worst album ever.

I can’t buy into either side. I think WOAD, as the Springsteen lunies have already abbreviated it, is somewhere between the two extremes, a solid B- kind of album. At first listen, the record is, well, a bit trite. The lyrics tend toward mundane, maybe even banal at times. But WOAD is better than that. The music tells the story here, and Springsteen has worked very hard on the SOUND of this record. In many ways, it is a reversal of form from his last album, Magic, which is actually a brilliant record, but is sometimes a bit  lacking in sound quality. I can’t help but think that WOAD is an okay album, which would have greatly benefitted from another year to craft a few more impressive songs, and which could have made it a really, really good album.

There are a few songs that have grown on me deeply with a few listenings. For my money, “This Life” is a gorgeous sweeping ballad, complete with a “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” sonic depth and Spectorized wall of sound. “Kingdom of Days” is probably the philosophic masterwork here, which sometimes is just a simple love song and sometimes is a meditation on the passing of human existence drop by drop. “Working on a Dream” is upbeat and inoffensive, “My Lucky Day” is a joyful thrash, and “The Wrestler” is evocative and haunting.

On the other hand “Good Eye” is such a skimpy excuse at swampy blues that it reminds me of Dylan’s more derivative 12 bar songs from his recent albums. Zzzzz. “Queen of the Supermarket” is one of those songs that people will either love (me) or hate (my wife). “Surprise, Surprise” feels like complete filler.

WOAD made a lot more sense to me when I stopped to consider that Bruce is now 59 years old. At 56, Bob Dylan released Time Out of Mind,a great album which is absolutely mired in pain, old age and death. Bruce is three years older than that. But he doesn’t slump off into the good night mournfully. The songs on WOAD can call into question the increasingly lessening days of our human existence, but they still can celebrate whatever is left in those days.  If you can approach the album from that standpoint, then there’s plenty to enjoy.

Joe

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4 Responses to “Working on a Dream”

  1. Amy Hilliard Says:

    Well put, again. It’s good Bruce, but not great Bruce.

    [And, you really need to quit looking at the Courier Journal reviews. Whatever their review is of an album, movie, whatever….it’s probably just wrong. 😛 Speaking of reviews, The Courier JOurnal, as a newspaper, sucks. But, that’s just my opinion. 🙂 And, it’s all we’ve got…..sooo.]

    At any rate, Bruce, unlike many an aging rock star, still has something to say that is worth hearing. After a long spanning career such as his, this is a testament to his ability to connect with the collective human condition and remain relevant….even if he does occasionally screw up (i.e. the whole “Wal-Mart v. working man” poorly thought out exclusive contract fiasco). Hey, he’s only human! Long live the Boss!

  2. eljoe1235 Says:

    Amy, I tend to say pretty much that very thing regarding ALL criticism. Or at least, all “professional” criticism. It’s probably not coincedental that Rolling Stone was giving WOAD five stars the week that Bruce was on the cover of the magazine.

    And yeah, Bruce is only human and, as you note, this is a very human album. There are definitely worse things, and I’m glad to still have him around and hope he isn’t going anyplace anytime soon (except back around here on tour!)

    Joe

  3. Teresa Says:

    Two words, and only for Julie’s sake:

    OUTLAW PETE.

  4. eljoe1235 Says:

    “Outlaw Pete” is the best song on the album. I’m sure of it. Julie thinks it’s retarded, but I think it’s Bruce’s great American allegory. Of course, I didn’t think of it until I saw Bruce pretty much spell it out on the VH-1 special on the new album.

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