As legendary a career as Bruce Springsteen has had over the 36 years he’s been recording, I believe his most successful run has been in the last four years. And when you’re talking about a rock-n-roller who turns 60 this year that’s an amazing accomplishment.
Like one of his heroes, Bob Dylan, Springsteen has somehow reinvented himself while remaining true to everything that has always made him great. There is a clear line from classics such as Born to Run and Nebraska to the provocative, inspiring albums he’s delivered since 2005 — Devils & Dust, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, Magic and now Working on a Dream.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from the three original albums in that group, but Working on a Dream can certainly stake a claim as the best of the bunch. Springsteen is working with a wide-open palette here, delivering everything from an 8-minute cowboy epic (‘Outlaw Pete’) to a McCartney-esque Happy Birthday song (‘Surprise, Surprise’).
One of my favorite tracks is the almost over-the-top blue collar romance ‘Queen of the Supermarket.’ It opens delicately with a simple piano melody as Springsteen sings of the beautiful grocery store cashier who’s won his heart and builds to an operatic finish, with Springsteen and wife/backup singer Patti Scialfa trading lines of the chorus, before easing into a jazzy outro that would feel at place on a Sting album (complete with the recurring ‘beep’ of a supermarket scanner for effect).
And I love this line at the end of the song:
I turn back for a moment and catch a smile
That blows this whole fucking place apart
I’m in love with the Queen of the Supermarket…
Another romantic highlight is ‘Kingdom of Days,’ which celebrates a love that has come to terms with the inevitable passage of time:
We laughed beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays
Sing away, sing away, my darling, we’ll sing away
This is our kingdom of days
On Magic, Springsteen wrote a song for his late friend and assistant Terry Magovern, and he closes this album with ‘The Last Carnival,’ a tune penned for late E Street keyboardist Danny Federici.
The train that keeps on movin’
Its black smoke scorching the evening sky
A million stars shining above us like every soul livin’ and dead
Has been gathered together by God to sing a hymn over your bones
This album is written by a man who sees the end in sight. But he’s not depressed… he’s invigorated, celebratory. You hear it in the Beach Boys harmonies of ‘This Life,’ the garage-band grunge of ‘Good Eye,’ and especially in the jaunty Buddy Holly acoustic pop of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows,’ a reminiscence far more sweet than melancholy.
Down by the Tildenberry tracks
There ‘neath the water tower
I carried you on my back
Over the rusted spikes of that highway of steel
When no more thunder sounds
Where the time goes
Tomorrow never knows
Tomorrow Never Knows: