Well, I've spent a week with the new Springsteen album, Working on a Dream, in heavy rotation in my truck and iPhone. I really, really like it. In some ways, it strikes me as the flip side of Magic. While the latter album focused on the slight-of-hand ways of the Bush administration and had an amazing number of dark lyrics bouyed by infectuous pop tunes, this new album is far more hopeful.
To me, the album's book ends and the middle song set the theme. "Outlaw Pete" tells the mock Old West tale of a ruffian who tries to change, but finds it is impossible: as he kills Dan the lawman, Dan "whispered in Pete's ear 'We cannot undo these things we've done'/You're Outlaw Pete, You're Outlaw Pete, can you hear me?" The middle song, a blues-style romp called "Good Eye," notes the human propensity to sin and failure: whether at the baptismal waters, with riches, or in marriage, the tag line comes through: "But I had my good eye to the dark and my blind eye to the sun." The final song, listed as a bonus track because it was not recorded by the E Street Band, "The Wrestler." After comparing himself to a one-legged dog, among other things, he sings, "These things that have comforted me I drive away (anything more)/This place that is my home I cannot stay (anything more)/My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display." The brokenness of life is the reality that shapes everything else.
So, I said it is more hopeful; this doesn't sound like it. The hope comes, I think, in the relationships and simple pleasures that undergird life in this world and make it possible: when we've lost all the other bets we've played, love ensures a lucky day ("My Lucky Day"); even when our dreams feel far away, we keep working on them and hoping that someday they will come ("Working on a Dream"); love provides ballast for this life and the next ("This Life") and serves to make even aging endurable ("Kingdom of Days").
The song that doesn't fit, although I keep thinking about it, is "Queen of the Supermarket." I think the juxtaposition of the supermarket--"a wonderful world where all you desire/And everything you've longed for is at your fingertips"--and the check-out girl is meant to play off the world of endless possibility against the personal effects of love extended (As I lift my groceries into my cart/I turn back for a moment and catch a smile/That blows this whole place apart). There is a gratituious f-bomb in this line, which drives me nuts because it seems unnecessary, although one reviewer suggested that its use was meant to be bracing and to "blow apart" our consumeristic approach to relationship. That might work; I still wish he didn't use it.
I find Springsteen to be one of the more profound songwriters of our generation. The fact that he can craft some incredibly catchy pop hooks to go with his thoughts makes him special and enjoyable. I'd highly recommend this album; taken with Magic, these two albums rank among his best since Born to Run.