On the basis of “Outlaw Pete”, an eight-minute saga about a bank-robbing baby that has some catchy hooks outside of the one that’s identical to “I Was Made For Loving You” by Kiss, one can be forgiven for thinking the kid didn’t get enough oxygen. But “My Lucky Day” redeems it, with the big E Street sound everybody loved on The Rising, and even a textbook Clarence solo. The title track is a little too by numbers, and the sweetness of “Queen Of The Supermarket” is sunk by its improbability, or at least its literalness; Paul Westerberg already wrote the best ode to a checkout girl anyway. Right at the end he finds a terrific countermelody, then shocks us with an F-bomb, and lets the song fade to the accompaniment of a UPC scanner. (We kid you not.) “What Love Can Do” sounds like something he must’ve written already, and it could do without the clattery arrangement. “This Life” builds on the Brian Wilson inspirations of the last album to get us smiling again.
The experiments continue on “Good Eye”, a noisy blues rocker sung through a Green Bullet. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a country song that has nothing to do with John Lennon, and while “Life Itself” is twice as long and has nothing to do with George Harrison, it’s got more depth. The country elements of those last couple of songs combine with the high notes on “Kingdom Of Days” to take it away from “Girls In Their Summer Clothes” and “Your Own Worst Enemy”. “Surprise, Surprise” was another chance to evoke John Lennon, or at least Gomer Pyle, but instead stays a pop song with a Mark Ronson bridge. It’s a final chance for toe-tapping, given the dusty atmosphere of “The Last Carnival”. (As had become standard, this album’s hidden or bonus track is “The Wrestler”, written for the movie of the same name. It’s no “Streets Of Philadelphia”.)
Working On A Dream is possibly Bruce’s most lightweight album, in that it’s not weighed down by the hard lives and tough loves of all those just plain folks. Rolling Stone magazine was bound by law to give it five stars, but that should mean nothing by now. It’s merely harmless and enjoyable.
Bruce Springsteen Working On A Dream (2009)—3