There is no bigger Bruce Springsteen fan than Jeff Bradley (referring to myself in third person, suh-weet). Go ahead, ask around, if you don't believe me. I once took a week off from classes at UNC to follow Bruce around the Southeast, with no tickets.
A girl named Liz Clarke (now a fantastic sportswriter for the Washington Post) and I would walk around various arenas until showtime, searching for bargains and, if all else failed, Liz had a trick that almost always seemed to work. She knew when and where the band's unused tickets would be released. It was genius, pure genius. Liz was cool...a bigger junky than I was (and talks to Joe Posnanski about it here), if that's possible, and she knew bigger junkies than both of us combined. Fun times.
Why did we want to go to so many shows? Simple. Because it seemed (I'm not sure anymore if it's reality) that every Bruce show was different.
I've remained loyal. When Bruce releases a new CD (yeah, I still call them "albums"), I am there to buy it (or download it), on Day One. Even when it's one of those somber, mostly acoustic deals like the Ghost of Tom Joad or Devils and Dust, I buy it soon as it hits the shelves...or soon as the link shows up at the Itunes Store.
So here I sit today, listening to Working on a Dream, Bruce's latest...which is being released just prior to his appearance at the Super Bowl. Going on a tangent here, I don't know how I feel about Bruce doing halftime...I mean, we used to applaud when Bruce turned down the big bucks Chrysler was offering him to use Born in the USA as a jingle. We even used to cheer Bruce for not "selling out" by doing music videos...or appearing in music videos after he did Atlantic City...then came the Dancing in the Dark and Courteney Cox...and, well, we accepted it. Not sure we liked it, but we accepted it. It actually got bad for a while with a cheezy vid for I'm on Fire (where Bruce attempted to act), but, hey, it was Bruce...so you put up with it, I guess.
Back to Working on a Dream. Seems Bruce has gotten all into altering his voice with electronics (I'm no sound tech, but it's clearly nothing like the raw stuff back in the The River era), and a lot of heavy production. Whatever, I'm down with it. It's cool. It's the songs that leave me begging.
The first song, Outlaw Pete, is a "Western Ballad" (at least that's what I'm calling it) that, at eight minutes, seems to last too long. And this criticism from a guy who gets ticked off when I hear Incident on 57th Street and Rosalita does not immediately follow it, providing me with the full 12-minute experience. I'm all about the 15-minute version of Racing in the Street that Bruce used to do on the '78 Darkness Tour...Love Prove it All Night with a four-minute piano intro...etc. Outlaw Pete, however...I kinda wanted it to end at four minutes. Drone, drone, Outlaw Pete, Outlaw Pete...Can You Hear Me?...Can You Hear Me? Unfortunately, yes.
The next two songs you've heard already. My Lucky Day and Working on a Dream. I have to say, My Lucky Day is a good rocker, and I really like the Miss Soozie Tyrell violin...no complaints. Working on a Dream lost me with the whistling part. Is it too much to ask for a Clarence Clemons solo here, or maybe some harmonica? OK, it's a decent little pop song, obviously linked to Bruce's man crush on Barack Obama, but a Bruce Classic it's not. It's a B-minus song.
At this point, Bruce throws at you perhaps the most ridiculous song I've ever heard from the man. Queen of the Supermarket. Just brutal. It's a song about some dude obsessing over the checkout girl at the local A&P. And at the end, Bruce throws in his second-recorded F-bomb. And it basically comes out of nowhere. This, I don't get. I mean, Bruce had 1,000 times the raw emotion when he sang Streets of Fire or Adam Raised a Cain...and never needed an F-bomb.
The next few songs -- What Love Can Do, This Life and Good Eye -- just nothing I'll want to continue listening to. I'm hitting the skip button in my car and the FF button on my ipod. Sorry. Come to think of it, I'm deleting it from my ipod. It's going the way of Spare Parts and 57 Channels and Nothing On and Last to Die...see ya.
It gets better with a 2-minute 17-second ditty, Tomorrow Never Knows, which I like a lot. Just a good little Bruce tune, an album tune, not a tune people will clamor for live...but a good tune. Let me see if I can type the word "tune" one more time. Tune.
Skip Life Itself. It's been getting play on E Street Radio..and it's just not good. Kingdom of Days sounds like an outtake from Magic, which is not a bad thing. I'll call it a keeper. I also like Surprise, Surprise, which also reminds me of a Magic song...think Girls in Their Summer Clothes..and has nice 60s, Byrds-like, harmonies. Good, solid stuff.
The Last Carnival...hey, it ain't Wild Billy's Circus Story, but it's a nice song. This one I'll keep on the ipod and add to some of my chill mixes. Have a feeling this one will grow on me, the same way Drive All Night and Something in the Night and Further On Up The Road evolved from songs I liked to songs I loved over the course of time.
And, of course, the best track on the whole CD is the title-song Bruce wrote for the Mickey Rourke movie, The Wrestler. It's quite simply a song that helps me keep the faith that Bruce can produce music worth listening to as he nears 60 years... This song actually put a lump in my throat similar to the lump I used to get hearing Bruce dedicate No Surrender to Steve Van Zandt back on the Born In the USA Tour...and then he'd play No Surrender solo acoustic.
Honestly, E Street Radio has probably made "new" Bruce music a harder sell for me. When I get random live shows like Live From St. Rose of Lima School in Freehold, and random jolts of The Price You Pay and Independence Day and Atlantic City live...man, Bruce, you set the bar high. Now, I feel compelled to type the word "random" again. Random.
I'll buy the next album, I'm sure...but the days of dropping the needle (or hitting play) and just rolling with it for 45 minutes to two hours...I guess they're gone.