Bruce Springsteen - Working On A Dream
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant...Bruce Springsteen?" OK, so Kafka's Metamorphosis didn't quite say that but what would you do in Bruce's shoes? Stay at home and play Wii Sports whilst tossing another million dollar royalty cheque under the bed? Pimp yourself out to Billionaire Oil Tycoons' bar mitzvahs like Jagger and Elton?? I mean who the hell needs a new Springsteen record? My shelves are full of 'em. Greatest Hits! Live! (Un)plugged! Thunder Road Demos Boxset Part 75!! Enough already surely?
Out of the wrapper things looked bleak. They say you should never judge a book by it's cover. Ain't it the truth. Jeez, Boss you paid some suit $50k to design that? The office temp surely cut out a faded Rolling Stone pic and glued it onto a Nytol bottle? Seriously it belongs in the pantheon of tragic covers alongside Rat On by Swampdog and Amazing Grace by The Celebration Road Show. Blimey and the songtitles! This Life, Life Itself, Surprise, Surprise and What Love Can Do. Own up, which joker slipped me the Michael Ball album?
But then the needle hits the vinyl (well it's a CD but, y'know, artistic licence) and sunlight pours through the bars of my Rock 'N' Roll prison cell. I have seen the power and the glory brothers. Bruce is back! Back! BACK! Like Roger Daltrey says “Meet the new Boss, same as the old Boss” (which admittedly is only good if you liked the old Boss).
From the eight-minute (don't worry kidz it's safe) theatrical curtain raiser Outlaw Pete to the 'Official Best Bonus Track Ever', The Wrestler, it's way more potent and well, alive, than any 456th album from a near pensioner deserves to be. There's always worry a Springsteen comeback will be toe-curlingly embarrassing like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but Dreams is more Eastwood in Unforgiven than anything. No Viagra for this one, Doc.
Queen of the Supermarket as a title conjures up all shades of horridness but when Bruce tears up his heart and hollers “I turn back for a moment and catch a smile that blows this whole fucking place apart” it's hard not to be swept away. It's these little touches that save tracks from straying into shoulder-shrugging “More Bruce with your Bruce?” territory. The harmonica on What Love Can Do, the Pearl & Dean “bah-bah-bahs” pirouetting around Clarence Clemons sax on This Life, the Tom Waits delta blues croak of Good Eye, the joie de vivre of My Lucky Day. It's never less than entertaining, it's Bruce showboating all of his tricks.
Knocking back the Brewskies with Obama has obviously inspired him to look at the bigger picture as the lyrics are noticeably broader in their outlook than the days of Thunder Road and Badlands. But it's the songs with a little focus, those which put a face to a name that hit hardest - The Wrestler, Outlaw Pete and The Last Carnival. Bruce cuts deeper as a Johnny Cash or a John Steinbeck than as a preacher man. Lyrics about friendship, sunsets and families? In 2009 this attitude is almost revolutionary - it's the anti Paris Hilton and 50 Cent. Like Kafka’s cheery tale of bug-based tragedy, Bruce's lyrics celebrate the real wealth in life over the superficial surface society increasingly treasures. Diamonds, plasma TVs, celebrity, limos, won't mean a thing in the end.
The noughties are proving Bruce's most productive decade since the '70's, he's literally been banging 'em out as if the alternative was 25 to life in a six-by-six cell with Victoria Beckham. But for all its huffin' and puffin' 2007's Magic didn't pull enough rabbits out of hats for me, I couldn't take my eyes off the old fella behind the curtain furiously pumping away on the pedals. This Dream plays more like a compilation tape than a cohesive themed album and it works all the better for it. You never know which Bruce you're gonna get next. Stadium Bruce, President Bruce, Boxer Bruce, Farmer Bruce, Sheila Bruce. The end result is, well, charmingly life affirming in an almost Waltons way. Who'd have thought I needed that?
I can't say Dream is perfect, only a fool would suggest it's vintage. I'll always favour the Lonesome Traveller Bruce of Nebraska and Ghost of Tom Joad myself and like most records made by 59 year-old men it comes out guns a blazing but goes a little soft and putty in the middle, coughing and spluttering. But damn if it doesn't fade out with a sense of shock and awe, jaws on the floor, and well respect. Lots of respect.
It's the final two songs which truly break my heart. The Last Carnival, a brave and beautiful sepia lament for the late E-Street hero Danny Federici, and The Wrestler, which for anyone who's seen Darren Aronofsky's extraordinary film will forever be listened to in reverential silence. Seriously, try and catch these two tiny tears. They recall the closing frames of Midnight Cowboy with poor Joe Buck wrapping a protective arm around his doomed friend Ratzo Rizzo. Heartbreaking stuff.
I'm not suggesting the yoof go and burn their skinny jeans and get down with the Bruce. Far from it, the younger generation have to torch yesterday. Kill yr idols, I'll happily light the Molotov. But when you get older and you've taken a few knocks, had your heart and your hopes beaten and bruised by outrageous fortune, you're gonna need someone like ol' Bruce. Someone in the darkness on the edge of town, someone to show you the way home again.