Released: January 27, 2009
“The Wrestler” is the bonus track on Springsteen’s latest album, Working on a Dream. It’s a honest tale set to poignant music. It connects in the way we expect Springsteen to connect. However, it is appropriately labeled as bonus material, because it really doesn’t fit the rest of the album.
The strings on the opener, “Outlaw Pete,” are a bit much. “Mr Lucky Day” is a good mainstream rocker, but lacks any real humanity. Springsteen finally connects on “Queen of the Supermarket,” even getting away with some corny lyrical ideas that only he could pull off, but as the song builds, it too becomes more a caricature of Springsteen than the real deal. And it couldn’t get much worse than “Kingdom of Days” which would sadly need little reworking for Muzak.
All isn’t lost though. The rootsy “Good Eye” features better, subtler playing than is typically found on a Springsteen record. The Boss’ take on Johnny Cash in the verses of “Life Itself” serve him well. At first, “Surprise, Surprise” seems like light pop, but it feels good and true. Juxtaposing it with “The Last Carnival,” a darker, lower-key closer that mixes folk and a heavenly backup chorus, strengthens both songs and ends on a note more along the lines of the best that can be expected from the last 20 years of Springsteen’s career.
Comparing Working on a Dream to anything in Springsteen’s prime is just unfair. However, just over a year ago, he managed to dig down and churn out a decent album that didn’t come across as a comfortable old man trying to relive what he found on Nebraska. There are enough good songs here to indicate that his well isn’t dry, it’s just no longer as deep as it once was and an album every year and a half might just be too much at this stage.
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