Working on a Dream is the 16th studio album by Bruce Springsteen, released on January 27, 2009 through Columbia Records. It has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, with over 585,000 in the United States as of September 2010.
The album was officially announced, along with a track listing, on November 17, 2008. The album first began selling in Germany and Ireland, on January 23.
The album came out of songwriting and recording that Springsteen continued with towards the close of his previous work, 2007's Magic, as the band worked on a video for one of that album's songs. "What Love Can Do" was written, in Springsteen's words, as a "love in the time of Bush" meditation, but felt like the start of something new rather than a candidate for Magic. Encouraged by his 2000s producer Brendan O'Brien, Springsteen decided to start work on a new album and wrote "This Life," "My Lucky Day," "Life Itself," "Good Eye," and "Tomorrow Never Knows" during the next week. They were then recorded with the E Street Band members during breaks on their 2007–2008 Magic Tour, with most being finished in just a few takes. This all reflected a faster pace of producing new music than Springsteen had been known for in the past; Springsteen said, "I hope Working on a Dream has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we've ever done." As with Magic, most of the tracks were first recorded with a core rhythm section band comprising Springsteen, drummer Max Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent, and pianist Roy Bittan; other members' contributions were then added subsequently.
The album is the last to feature new work of founding E Street Band member Danny Federici, who died in April 2008. Federici's son Jason also plays on the album.
Title number "Working on a Dream" was first performed during Springsteen's November 2, 2008 appearance in Cleveland for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign (accompanied by Patti Scialfa), and then a chopped-up airing of the recorded version first appeared during the November 16 NBC Sunday Night Football broadcast at halftime. The intact "Working on a Dream" began airing on radio stations and their websites on November 21; it was made available for free download via iTunes and the Sony BMG website on November 24. The track entered the UK Singles Chart at position 195 the following week. A music video appeared on some foreign sites showing the recording of the song. "My Lucky Day" was made available in the United States on amazon.com on December 1, accompanied by a longer music video that showed Springsteen and the band arranging and recording the song. "Life Itself" was released as a free download from amazon.com on December 28, with a music video that featured studio footage interspersed with vague scene snippets that may illuminate the moody song.
On January 12, 2009, the album leaked onto the internet. On January 19, NPR.org scheduled a streaming of it free for a week, in advance of the actual release. Sony BMG's Irish website also began streaming it. An extensive and carefully planned promotional push for Springsteen and the album was put together, incorporating appearances at the Golden Globe Awards, the Barack Obama presidential inauguration, a new greatest hits album, the half-time show of Super Bowl XLIII and an anticipated appearance at the 81st Academy Awards. The last of these went awry when, in what Rolling Stone termed "shocking news," "The Wrestler" was snubbed by the Academy and failed to gain a nomination. Nevertheless, all the activity led Springsteen to say, "This has probably been the busiest month of my life."
An abbreviated version of "Working on a Dream" was included in Springsteen's February 1 performance during the Super Bowl. VH1 Classic aired the documentary Bruce Springsteen: The Making Of 'Working On A Dream' in early February 2009. The Working on a Dream Tour began on April 1, 2009, in the wake of the album's release.
User Album Review
On this album's opener, Outlaw Pete, Bruce, it seems, is addressing nothing less than America's own past coming back to haunt it (in the guise of a bounty hunter finally catching up with the titular outlaw) and Working On A Dream uses the complete range of The Boss to hunt down and redefine the dream in the 21st century.
Yet the use of an harmonica sample from Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West on Outlaw Pete is misplaced, for unlike Leone's cartoon vision of the great American Western it's the late films of John Ford that seem more relevant.
These are songs filled with nostalgia, regret, shame and yet, like Ford, underneath it all a love of the American Dream.
These days it seems that all the Boss can do is sound like a classic. The E-Street Band barrel manfully through tracks like My Lucky Day with all that Phil Spector widescreen verve, while This Life's first 15 seconds could even be the Beach Boys.
Much like Johnny Cash, Springsteen's status, at once heroic and preposterous, is now utterly assured. Whether you buy the image will probably dictate as to whether you regard Working On A Dream as being among his masterworks. Maybe we should just be grateful that somewhere there's someone still this guileless. But it's a paradox for a man who's made a career out of chronicling the working man's experience (he still sings about getting his hands dirty on the title track) that he's almost become an archetype.
Like his previous album, a great deal of this stuff is about mortality and age. Bruce's entourage is now feeling the hand of the Reaper. Magic was dedicated to right hand man Terry MacGovern and here The Last Carnival is a thinly veiled tribute to the passing of keyboard player Danny Federici. But it’s far from bleak; Tomorrow Never Knows sings of time's passage with a jaunty Pete Seeger-in-Nashville swagger.
Beyond the usual bombast Brendan O'Brien's production work is a little less cluttered, the songs a little more closely mic'ed, and there are some small but significant stylistic experiments. Life Itself has some vaguely trippy guitars at its heart and Queen Of The Supermarket's coda checkout beeps lifts the potentially banal analogy of the mall as palace of seduction to another level.
It’s hard not to read all this as a brazen attempt to encapsulate a nation on the brink of a new era. But who else is as qualified to ring the changes? Dylan's found a new home in the primal blues of his youth, while artists like Neil Young are too personal in their attempts to sum up a nation's mood.
Bruce still stands tall as both conscience and as a teller of tales.
External Album Reviews