Bruce’s birthday gift to me, his new album “Working On A Dream”, dropped yesterday. Sorry for the delay in posting but I was out of town in Albany. I was able to buy the album at 9:30 A.M., the first customer in the music section of the Barnes and Noble at the Colonie Center. I sat down with my Discman and some Starbucks and listened twice through. After my meetings, I also listened to the disc on the ride home and popped the DVD extra with footage of the recording sessions when I got home.
So, I’m not as awestruck with this release as I was with “Seeger Sessions” or “Magic”, but I’m not disappointed either. I get the feeling that “WOAD” will be just like “Tunnel of Love”, the album about love and commitment whose charms slowly build.
What this album is certainly NOT:
1) Political. Bruce was prescient about the past election, so the angst and despair of the Bush years that totally suffused “Magic” has been replaced by a sort of hard won sense that we have what we need to get by, despite the challenges we face. Dare I say hope? But the context is personal. This is an album of love songs–or a yearning for love. All you need is love–yeah, yeah, yeah.
2) Rockin’. No squalling Bruce/NIls/Little Steven guitar work. Nothing as incendiary as songs such as “Gypsy Biker” or “World’s Apart” where you marvel at the ferocity of the guitars. This is an album of strings, chiming guitar and pop hooks. I found myself humming the chorus parts to “Working On A Dream,” and “Lucky Day”, the kind of pleasant but sing-songy rock of somebody like Tom Petty.
The album has two songs that do not really fit into the framework that Bruce has envisioned for this album, fittingly the final two cuts on the album. Both are outstanding. Bruce’s farewell to the longest serving member of the E Street Band, the late organist and accordion player Danny Federici is the lovely “The Last Carnival.” The band acknowledges its loss and prepares to move on, but their final nod to Danny is the song’s coda, a ringing celestial melding of Bruce and Patti’s vocals seemingly saying “higher”–sending him off to the angels. I dare any Springsteen fan to listen without crying.
Bruce also wrote a song for his friend Mickey Rourke and his movie “The Wrestler.” Since there was extreme time pressure, Bruce recorded at home and did all the work himself. The result is a straight forward, alt.country type ballad, the kind of song that would have fit in well on the album “Devils and Dust.” I like it a lot and can’t wait to see the movie.
So where does Working On A Dream fit into the Bruce canon? There are several songs on this album that are substantial but take awhile to appreciate–their charms are buried in the production. The two songs that I will be listening to more and more are “What Love Can Do.” and “Life Itself” Both songs have a more rock feel to them beneath the strings and both are bittersweet in their ultimate outlook, the first song outlining the pitfalls individuals without love can face and the second song lamenting that even with love, life can present us with seemingly insoluble problems.