Bruce Springsteen

Working on a Dream (Columbia)

With “Outlaw Pete”, the Boss opens Working on a Dream with the kind of grandiose show tune that characterized his first three albums. But it’s also streamlined in a way that “Born to Run” definitely isn’t, and the rest of Springsteen’s 16th album suggests that he’s not done with the de-Bossing program he undertook on 2007’s Magic. “My Lucky Day” follows in the pitching-and-rolling Celtic vein we heard on We Shall Overcome, with only Roy Bittan’s keyboard parts and Clarence Clemons’s standard eight-bar sax cameo pointing us back to Jersey.

Indeed, “Good Eye” is Delta blues with precisely one E Street Band too many pumping hot air into something that requires less, not more, though a breezy country shuffle called “Tomorrow Never Knows” hangs together beautifully. The intriguing “Life Itself” becomes the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” for a few moments, and Brian Wilson looms large over both “This Life” and “Queen of the Supermarket”. But what are we to make of Springsteen’s nostalgic fixation, which is apparently focused as much on a golden age of postwar prosperity and its “aisles and aisles of dreams” as on the golden age of radio? Perhaps there’s a clue in the album title—the terrible album title—which would not likely suffer any contradiction if we inserted the word American before the word Dream. Which is fine, but it leaves this fan a little queasy. Bush and Cheney are gone, sure, but that’s no reason to get all mush-brained.