Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bruce Springsteen- Working On A Dream

Rating: 7.2
Released: Jan. 27, 2009

I have come to think of Bruce Springsteen as America's conscience. Think of him as Jiminy Cricket with a bandanna.

There are few constants in this life, save for The Boss and his link to our better instincts.

When thousands of Vietnam vets returned to a lukewarm ovation in America in the 1970s and 1980s, Bruce sang for them (see "Born in the USA").

When Reagan Republicans turned a blind eye to AIDS research because the disease was commonly associated with homosexuality, Bruce sang for them too (see "Streets of Philadelphia").

When scores of Americans prepped for holy war after 9/11, there was Bruce, singing, "Better ask questions before you shoot (see "Lonesome Day")."

When former President George W. Bush made the case for war in Iraq, there was Bruce singing about political slight-of-hand (see "Magic").

And when Republican demagogues threatened to shout down Presidential candidate Barack Obama as a liberal firebrand, Bruce was there to make the case for change.

Of course, the Boss is a legend today not just because he was in the right place at the right time. He is one of America's most enduring songwriters, and few artists can claim to have recorded as brilliantly as Bruce did from 1972 to 1980.

That said, his latest album "Working On A Dream" is Bruce coasting. His lyrics, once sharp and keen, have grown increasingly vague, and his voice, once a harrowing rock and roll battle cry, has deepened and weathered.

Rolling Stone will crown "Working On A Dream" a triumph. Pitchfork will dub it an unmitigated bland failure. As is often the case when overzealous critics look for bold proclamations, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

There are great songs here. Who knew Springsteen was still capable of romantic epics like "Outlaw Pete" and "Working On A Dream?" Both songs are heavy with massive Born To Run guitars, strings and Clarence Clemons' explosive saxophone.

There are intimate gems, like bonus track "The Wrestler." Written for the film of the same title, the sparse, downtrodden tune is perfect for Mickey Rourke's Raging Bull-style epic of an aging fighter.

There are oddities like The Boss gone Tom Waits on bluesy stomper "Good Eye."

And there are sleepers here too. I'm not sure that the cheesy "Queen of The Supermarket," a weird hymn to a grocery store clerk, is going to last in a good way.

But Bruce will last, and when he takes the stage during the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday, it'll be most fitting.

In this time of turmoil, as our economy collapses underneath us, Bruce will sing to the gathered throngs in Tampa to call on our better nature again.

In the meantime, go out and buy this album.


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