Springsteen’s latest ‘A Dream’ for rock fans


“I saw rock and roll future,” Rolling Stone critic Jon Landau famously wrote in 1974, “and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Thirty-five years later, the skinny kid from the Jersey shore has more than lived up to the billing.

After playing Super Bowl XLIII and selling out another worldwide tour, The Boss is as relevant now as he’s ever been — clearly no longer a musician so much as an icon. This is a dangerous position for an artist to be in, as the mythology of the man can easily overshadow the merit of his work. And yet, somehow, the years of fame and fortune have hardly dulled Springsteen’s songwriting sense. “Working on a Dream” isn’t quite “Born to Run,” but it’s a lot better than almost everything else you’ll hear this year.

A lot of these songs are formulaic, but when the formula is this well-executed, who can complain? Springsteen writes an anthem as well as anyone, and the title track is every bit as sincere and universal as 2002’s “The Rising.” There’s the sprawling eight minute western epic “Outlaw Pete,” and Springsteen wisely takes a chance by opening the album with it. “What Love Can Do” explodes into the best verse melody he’s written in years, equal parts desperate and defiantly optimistic — classic Springsteen. The Golden Globe-winning “The Wrestler” is saved for a bonus track and it might be the best song on the album. With sparse accompaniment Springsteen casts another one of society’s outcasts as a tragic, broken hero. “Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds?” he sings. “If you’ve ever seen that scarecrow, then you’ve seen me.” Even taken out of the context of the film for which it was written, the track is undeniably powerful.

In fairness, it’s not all gold. “Queen of the Supermarket” should have been left on the cutting room floor, if not thrown into a fire somewhere. The whole thing is hacky and embarrassing and it belongs on a Kenny Chesney album. Meanwhile “Good Eye” is generic and featureless and would have been better served as a B-side.

But that’s nitpicking. From the gorgeous Beach Boys-style harmonizing (by Brian Wilson himself, no less) on “This Life” to the contended poetry of “Kingdom of Days,” this album is nothing short of excellent.

Springsteen turns 60 later this year, but apparently has no plans to rest on the laurels of his past glories. Instead, 36 years after his debut album, The Boss has re-solidified his status as one of today’s best songwriters.