Working on a Dream
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Columbia, 2009)
For 36 years now, Bruce Springsteen has been redefining the “rock star” job description.
He was the clean and sober guy in a flannel shirt who pushed community responsibility and, later, political engagement. Now he’s out there again, finding out for all who may follow what it is to be an active practitioner of the rock arts at the age of 59.
Recently Springsteen has released a series of free downloads on his website, played at the Obama inauguration, put this entire album of new work on a stream at npr.org, officially released it as his 24th album, played the half-time show at the Super Bowl, launched a sold-out concert tour, and displaced teen pop sensation Taylor Swift from the top of the Billboard album chart. Whew. Not bad for a man who is nearing retirement age.
But what’s especially interesting about the late-middle-era Boss is that he’s still as engaged with his craft as if he were still trying to find his voice. On this album, as on his last, Magic (Columbia, 2007), he can be heard actively experimenting with his sound when he could easily sail into the sunset recycling the clichés of his glory days.
On Magic the rhythm and blues moves that dominated the best tracks on The Rising (Sony, 2002) were displaced by an angry hard rock sound. But around the edges of that album were some tunes that dabbled in a ringing mid-1960s pop sound with string quartets and ringing guitars and timeless images of love and regret.
With Working on a Dream, the Bush-era anger is gone, and that layered, even delicate pop sound has come front and center.
The only thing about Springsteen’s current work that suggests the artist is pushing 60 is the fact that this album, like Magic, ends with a song of tribute to a deceased comrade, in this case E Street organist Danny Federici, who died of cancer last year.