Sound — 9
The E Street Band has never sounded better than they do on "Working on a Dream". And that says a lot, because this is a band that has always sounded good. Interviews with the band reveals that their process of recording for this album harks back to their early classic Born To Run, with piano, bass, drums and Bruce himself cutting the basic tracks then lets the rest of the musicians add their own parts to it afterwards. And it works incredibly well, as the "E Street sound" is richer and bigger than it has ever been. The upbeat tone of the band that has always been present in the music, even though the lyrical content handled depressing subject matters, is still there. This time the lyrics are generally very upbeat as well, which makes the sound more effective. Some of the tracks also see the band go in slightly new directions, most notably in the tracks "Tomorrow Never Knows", with a slightly countryish feel to it, and the hard rocking, bluesy "Good Eye". What's missing in many of the songs sound-wise is the big, hooky chorus that are one of the Springsteen trademarks. It is present in some songs, like "My Lucky Day", but more often than not the chorus on this record comes across as repetitive rather than interesting (perhaps most true on the title track and "Surprise, Surprise").
Lyrics — 6
The lyrics on Working On A Dream generally has a very optimistic feel, and most of them seems to be about happy memories of love. Nothing of the previous "Magic"'s politics are present. Springsteen's down-to-earth imagery is also present throughout the album (one of the songs is set in the supermarket and tells about the narrator's crush on one of the supermarket's employees). All of these are trademarks that fit well with the sound of the band, yet one can't help but feel dissapointed by most of the lyrics here. Bruce's lyrics has always had a certain heaviness to it, and if that wasn't present, one always got the feeling that he really cared about what he wrote - he made Nebraska, for God's sake! Sadly, the lyrics on Working On A Dream comes across as a little hurried and uncharacteristically light-hearted for Springsteen. We can't blame Bruce for being happy, but we can question his devotion to making songs that matters on this record. This impression is strengthened towards the end of the album, with two songs which obviously "matter", at least to himself. The first one, "The Last Carnival", is a tribute to recently diseased E Street Band member Danny Federici, sung as a metaphor to a circus-artist who has lost his companion. The other one is "The Wrestler", listed as a bonus track. This is the soundtrack to the film of the same name, and if the film is as good as the song, it will become a classic in the future. "The Wrestler" is Bruce at his rawest, with only a guitar and some synthesiser. The album would have benefited from more songs like these.
Overall Impression — 7
In the end, the often poor lyrical content is mostly saved by the majestic sound of the E Street Band, with a few exceptions. Some of the songs here are brilliant pop-tunes as well, like "My Lucky Day", the song which I would predict would get the most air-time on radio from this album. One can't help but think that Bruce should have a worked a harder on the lyrics for this album - after all, his previous album Magic was released just over a year ago. I think we happily could have waited a little longer. Still, I can imagine these songs working well live, and are excited on hearing them when Bruce starts touring again towards the summer.