I can see the scene now, Gary, the mighty Max, the Big Man, all standing around the studio, looking at their feet, afraid to tell Bruce that one of his new songs, the otherwise very charming, “Outlaw Pete,” has a melody very similiar to the one found in KISS’ “I Was Made For Lovin’ You Baby,” their successful quasi-disco single off their otherwise weak 1979 stylistic stumble, Dynasty.
So wait, no one told The Boss that he was channeling KISS? Where are his lawyers? His management? His friends and friggin’ family?
Of course that's not what happened. The real story is Bruce and everyone around him knew and just said, “What the hell. ” He's Springsteen and he changed enough of the song that most people won't notice. Nothing against KISSHey, the first Alive record still rocksbut Bruce “borrowing” from a KISS song kinda cheeses him out. The weirdness of it all is breathtaking.
And then again, Bruce doesn’ treally need to explain anything to anyone, which is exactly why no one is calling him on this. Whatayou gonna say really, `Ah excuse me Boss, you know you ripped off KISS?” No. He’s “Jungleland.” He’s “Sinaloa Cowboys.” He’s “New York City Serenade.” It would take a shitload of really bad records to ever convince me that the man had lost a step. Yeah, the Sessions stuff, both the studio record and the Live in Dublin followup left me cold, but I understand that artists have to grow and divide or they die and as side trips go that one made sense and is forgivable.
The new record, Working On A Dream, proves one thing straight up: it is now time for Brendan O’Brien to take his production style, his love of bombast and move on down the road. Just like the last studio record, Magic the production here can’t get out of the music’s way. Whatever O’Brien brought to the process in terms of ideas and energy has long since been exhausted. This thing is too bright. Too perky. Too in your face. His overcompressed, jump at ya production signature is beginning to feel very 1998. Take a tune like “This Life,” there IS a better way to arrange and record that tune that the way it appears on this album. Seriously, the big, candied, busyashell concoction that it is here made me want to yell, “Bruce! Enough!” How many tunes on one record can have choirs of background vocals overdubbed into the background. The album’s closer, “The Last Carnival,” is too much. I get the whole let’s add a gospel tinge to the songs but this is too much. Jesus. It’s like Springsteen in a pink party dress. Enough!! I’m not saying strip it down, retreat to your bedroom and make another Nebraska but damn, making everything huge as possible, as production ideas go, has run it’s course.
Another Brendan bone to pick: Why use processed vocals on “Good Eye?” Again, this is not 2001, nor is this a Strokes record. Love the shout outs and the dirty harp on that tune however.
I’m not sure, other than much to his eternal credit that man is not above learning from other people’s ideas, why Bruce doesn’t produce himself at this point. I mean I figure that’s really what happens anyway.
Overall, Working on a Dream is an uneven record, something less that turns great in spots like, “Queen of the Supermarket,” not to be confused with his other great queen song, “Mary Queen of Arkansas,where his voice takes flight and gets that sad magic yearn to it that’s always made him such a hugely underestimated singer. And check out the bonus track, “The Wrestler,” from the Mickey Rourke film of the same name. It’s Bruce, his guitar and Roy Bittan’s piano with a minimal amount of O’Brien’s sonic clutter in the background.
And again this is Bruce, so this record has tunes on it like, “Working on a Dream,” or “Tomorrow Never Knows,” both of which are very simply producedwhere I exhaled, nodded and felt a warm reassurance that the man is still there, his talent still on it’s game, his taste still in possession of the infallible edge that makes him such a monster. BRUUUUCCE!
A sure measure of the economic mess George Bush left us in will come this summer when Bruce tours North America. The shows are sold out of course but if you check Stubhub.com for say the second date at the Izod Center at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, the range of prices stretches from $50.00 to $4500.00. The bulk of the tickets fall between $200.00 and $1000.00 and I bet as the May date nears, the prices will begin to tumble. Either that or a lot of ticket investorsthose who buy them just to sell them at wildly inflated priceswill be choking on their assets.