Disclaimer: Any album from Bruce Springsteen > 99% of the world's music.
Yes, even Human Touch.
With that in mind, Working on a Dream is not very good. It has some wonderful songs - as I've said, "My Lucky Day" is one of the best songs he's put out this decade, with a message of hope and a reassurance that, even though he's 'lost all the other bets he's made,' this one is right on the money.
The title track is also infused with that same sense of hope that every reviewer is drawing from the album, and although its national unveiling at the Super Bowl was the only moderately hokey aspect of an otherwise stellar show, its lyrics are another example of the simple yet passionate connection that Springsteen has been able to force with his audience.
"Good Eye" seems to have been designed as an excellent counterpart to the full band "Reason to Believe," and both "The Last Carnival" and "The Wrestler" are slow, touching album closers that pay tribute to a fallen E Streeter and a fallen (presumably) cinematic wrestling superstar, respectively.
That's five songs that matter, and honestly, they're the only ones. "Kingdom of Days" sounds like Bruce has finally, albeit unsatisfyingly, captured one of the "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" (perhaps with the painfully repetitious 'I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you I do') and "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a happy little ditty promoting the now-positive uncertainties of the future. They're the next two best songs, and neither is all that memorable (although any time Bruce releases what sounds like an uplifting tune is a good thing).
And then we reach the dregs. "Outlaw Pete," as an example, uses its bloated length to disguise a lazy story (and apparently, a hidden Kiss song). It's a cowboy version of "Rocky Raccoon," if Springsteen suddenly decided to take "Rocky" way too seriously. "What Love Can Do" sounds like a Rising reject, "Surprise, Surprise" is a catchy song - if 40% of the lyrics were more than just the word 'surprise' - and the two songs with "Life" in the title have the dubious distinction of sounding nothing alike while somehow remaining indistinguishable.
And "Queen of the Supermarket" is just awful. Bruce has only said 'fuck,' to the best of my knowledge, twice in his studio career. Once was on "Reno," which was on Devils and Dust, so it made more sense to be edgy. But this time, it seems like he's flailing lyrically, in an attempt to grab the attention of listeners who've already moved on. It's a song that the Springsteen haters have been waiting for, a misguided attempt to recapture the topics of his youth. Born to Run is over, and we've all moved on - hinting at his past like this can only cause trouble.
I understand where Bruce is going with this album - I'd say it's a two-pronged assault. First, he ended up writing some tunes, post-Magic, with a more optimistic outlook on the future, and in conjunction with the new hope that was/is Barack Obama, he saw a quick album release as a chance to voice his newly strengthened opinion. Second, he no longer holds his outtakes, and himself, to the unfathomable standards of the 1970s.
I own and love Tracks, as I've stated before - there are probably 12-15 absolutely unbelievable songs on there, stuff that could have hit the charts, and stuff that even his more mainstream fans would adore. But it didn't fit into what he was trying to do, and so, for so many years, it never saw the light of day. But now, as he gets older, he seems to understand that getting himself out there, whether its the Super Bowl halftime show, the lead slot at Bonnaroo, a worldwide tour or another album release, is the most important thing. That there's a place for everything he's written, and there are millions of fans who want to give it a shot, whatever it is.
And that he's getting older. With Danny Federici dying, the world probably seems a lot more real to the E Street Band. The clock is ticking, and each tour, and album, could be their last. Bruce has found love, he's mellowed, he's taken his rightful place as a rock legend and overseer of anything political or cultural that he deems worthy of his time. More than ever, he has something to say, and I think that's why Working on a Dream is on shelves right now, and why I'll be seeing the man at least three or four times on tour in April, and why, at almost age 60, he's hopping on pianos and smashing his junk into a video camera on the world's biggest stage - he might as well.
You can't fault the man for that; again, like I've said before, 'the more we get, the better.' Working on a Dream could have ended up being the biggest piss album of all time, but if it offered one more song to slide into my Bruce rotation, it would be worth it. And it gave me five, so there you go. Release a half-dozen more albums before you go, Bruce. And while you're expanding the library a bit, how about a little "Be True" or "So Young and In Love" at the concerts in 2009? To most people, they're as good as new, anyway.
Objective rating for Working on a Dream: C+
Subjective rating for Working on a Dream: B
Bruce Springsteen's approval rating, in general: Eternal A+