So who the hell is Brendan O'Brien and what exactly did he do with Bruce Springsteen? After multiple listens to Springsteen's newest release, it began to strike me that the magnum themes infusing Bruce's best work - guarded optimism, redemption, allusion, delusion, squandered love, dreams crashed, dreams burned, dreams postponed - are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, Springsteen's waning capacity for introspection and complexity seems to be a permanent fixture of the soft-core O'Brien era and is most glaring on this release and 2007's lackluster, Magic.
Tempering my basic disappointment is the fact that Working On A Dream is an exceptional, finely crafted pop album - but like so many goodies spinning behind the glass in any Jersey Diner (or any Bon Jovi record,) this shimmering dessert is all meringue with very little crust and almost no filling. Throughout the disc the songwriting has no aspiration beyond the literal all but sabotaging the record's one stab at epic storytelling, Outlaw Pete. A song which careens between ponderous spaghetti western and an audition for Verizon, weighed down by a constant chorus of "Can you hear me?" Don't worry Boss, you repeat it fifty times, we'll hear it even from the cheap seats at Giants Stadium.
An opportunuty wasted since as an ode to a poorly drawn, cartoonish punk, "Pete" misses the mark - regrettable, in that the slightest burst of inspired songwriting, could have elevated the idea beyond characiture and been a fitting book-end to WOAD's best track, The Wrestler.
Unfortunately, the lowlights don't end with the opening track - do we really care that Bruce has a chubby for the hot bagger in aisle two - well, with the gloriously tedious Queen of the Supermarket she finally has her anthem. And frankly, the less said about Surprise, Surprise the better - at long last a hummable party theme to amuse yourself with while you're waiting for the guest of honor behind the couch. In fairness, any artist can be given a pass for a throwaway song however, on WOAD that description seems justified far too often.
So, whether or not the mayor of E-Street wants to be Boss Springsteen, Hoss Cartwright or Bruce Bon Jovi, my recommendation is that you enjoy the record for the exceptional "wall of sound" production and not contemplate what might have been if Springsteen had spent more than four minutes of his life scribbling lyrics for this very average offering.
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