Bruce Springsteen

Working on a Dream (Columbia)

Phases & Stages

Bruce Springsteen

Working on a Dream (Columbia)

First and foremost, Bruce Springsteen has realized that oft-evoked rock & roll ideal almost never pulled off since Sgt. Pepper replaced singles with the album. Boss struck while the iron was hot. Because everyone who saw Springsteen & the E Street Band live over the last two years behind 2007's Magic will assuredly raise their hands to rock. For Jersey's favorite son to then make his best album of the decade on stolen tour time is a superstar feat. Not that his 24th disc rivals Born to Run. And yet opening Working on a Dream with the couplet "He was born a little baby on the Appalachian Trail/At six months old he'd done three months in jail" telegraphs a top-down time, especially since "Outlaw Pete," easily read as tribute to Pete Seeger – who's prompted two Springsteen releases in the past five years – runs at a length that matches the singer's ringlets and beard in the 1970s. Where 2002's The Rising sought to reassure in a post-9/11 dawn (and cried for an old-school label edit) and Magic aimed one last swift if errant kick at a new millennial order (now superseded), Working on a Dream crowns Springsteen & the E Street Band's most productive period since their first four LPs. Recent bad habits remain, the frontman still scraping his epiglottis with fare too transparently blue-collar anthemic ("Working on a Dream," "Kingdom of Days") and even mundane (Lucky Town/Human Touch throwback "Queen of the Supermarket"). Penultimate cut "Surprise, Surprise" belongs on Tracks II. Fortunately, "My Lucky Day" raves on pure ramrod, while the heart of the album, brand-new Asbury Park Hall of Famer "What Love Can Do" through "Life Itself," coasts with a confidence not heard since The River. While Brendan O'Brien's hamfisted production on the previous two E Streeters was criminal, here the platter's pointed filigree – Fat Possum breakdown "Good Eye," willfully Beatles-esque "Tomorrow Never Knows" – even masks Clarence Clemons' overall absence from the proceedings. "The Last Carnival," eulogy for late group organist Danny Federici, closes this lean Dream with a contained blast of gospel stunning in its closure. Bonus cut "The Wrestler" pins a coda on flawless sequencing. Wind it out as the years go passing by. (Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band shake the Frank Erwin Center April 5.)

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