CD of the Week: Bruce Springsteen: Working on a dream


If the tunes ever dried up, Bruce Springsteen could turn his hand to speechwriting. He addressed a rally for Barack Obama last November thus. "I've spent 35 years writing about America and its people," he said, going on to define the American dream as a portfolio of democratic values, powered by "the dignity of work" and nurtured by "the sanctity of home". He had, he said, spent most of his life as a musician "measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality".

As befits an artist embedded with Obama, Springsteen clearly feels that distance will narrow soon. Working on a Dream is a record with a big doggy grin on its face. Its title can be read politically, as a soundbite commentary on the Obama project, or even - the word "dream" being particularly pregnant in American political discourse - as a progress report on the vision of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Really, though, the aspirations here are the size of a human heart. Working on a Dream's 13 songs largely eschew the tone of witness-bearing protest at which Springsteen has excelled; rather, they thrum with a kind of hopeful, loving contentment.

Many of them pour out of the same fount as Girls in Their Summer Clothes, from his last album, Magic. That song's rich breeziness, echoing both the Beach Boys and - arrestingly - the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, repeats here, in songs like This Life (key sentiment: "It'll be all right"). Queen of the Supermarket, meanwhile, is a twinkly love story set in a grocery not yet taken over by Wal-Mart.

You're never going to get out of a Springsteen album without a manly yarn, but the fairly superfluous eight-minute cowboy epic Outlaw Pete is the only exemplar. Also included are Springsteen's Golden Globe-winning title track for Mickey Rourke's redemption film, The Wrestler (the kind of staple he can knock out with his ears shut) and an elegy for Danny Federici, the E Street Band keyboard player who died from cancer last year.

Throughout, good cheer, hope, the power of love and a renewed fascination with the ebb and flow of the everyday make for a record that doesn't so much stand out as go deep in. It's often said that the personal is political, and Springsteen is the kind of balladeer who gives such soundbites fresh validity.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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