Let’s get right down to it: “Outlaw Pete,” the opening track of Bruce Springsteen‘s sixteenth album Working On A Dream does sound just like Kiss‘ “I Was Made For Loving You” (YouTube). It’s not a complete re-write, but there’s a series of do-do-do’s and a guitar part that mimic the same note sequence as Paul Stanley singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby,” from the horrific Dynasty album.
It’s enough to get Gene Simmons‘ attention, but not similar enough to get him to try to sue The Boss.
The déjà-vu won’t leave you mad at Springsteen, but it will have you scratching your head “Why?” Why didn’t any of the performers, producers, confidants, whoever, come up to him and say “You know Bruce, that one part sound like that shitty Kiss song—the one when they went disco—whadya say we rework it, or better yet, just leave that section out?” Seriously: the song, which drags on for a yawn inducing eight minutes, doesn’t need it at all.
No sir, what The Boss needs is a district manager: someone who can sit him down and advise him on little matters like Kiss, Wal-Mart, and his own legacy within the scope of rock and roll.
Working On A Dream isn’t about to change Springsteen’s place in rock history, but more to the point, it won’t going to help it either. It comes off like the third installment of the Human Touch/Lucky Town sessions but even less focused. And even though the liner notes attribute the performers as the E Street Band, one could make the argument that their character has been all but erased here, supplemented with misguided attempts to sound updated and relevant. Producer Brendan O’Brien may be to blame for some of the unnecessary bombast and clutter within the arrangements, but the real fault lies with Springsteen for putting O’Brien in the predicament for having to cover up what was a weak album before the tape even started rolling.
Take “Queen Of The Supermarket,” a faux-lust piece where Springsteen seemingly has run down a list of blue-collar careers primarily held by women (Waitress? Already been done. Hairstylist? Ditto. Checkout girl? Perfect!) and then slapped a few clichés and sappy phrases on it. O’Brien layers so much shit on top of the lyrical nonsense that by the time the song reaches the second half, he has Patty Scialfa doing an over-the-top refrain, a ridiculous orchestral swell, and the fucking beeps of a checkout aisle. It’s the most embarrassing thing ever in Springsteen’s catalog, and it’s almost bad enough to make you give up on listening to the rest of the album.
As for the songs that are at least tolerable, they suffer from an uncomfortable feeling that this iconic artist is growing lost as he approaches his sixth decade, and no one has the good sense to challenge his authority. “Life Itself” sounds like he’s trying to channel Warren Zevon. “Good Eye” finds him aping the blues while the rest of the band sounds like they’re lost inside of the interloping rhythms of Bruce’s distorted yelps and repetitive harmonica. “Tomorrow Never Knows” utilizes a nice acoustic shuffle before, once again, Brendan O’Brien starts tossing pointless vocal effects and worthless instrumentation into the mix.
Working On A Dream is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt at building excitement for another arena tour with the E Street Band. The thing is, the show itself is excitement enough and Bruce’s latest greatest hits compilation for Wal-Mart [Recently acknowledged as a “mistake” – ed.] will probably do more to fill the seats than any memorable track on this album.
And for good reason: the songs on that compilation hark back to a time when Springsteen was a reliable champion of the everyman while Working On A Dream sounds like a white collar effort from someone who’s become part of the problem.
The only dream that is being worked on here is The Boss’ financial well-being.