Bruce's latest album has been out for awhile, and I haven't said much, if anything, about it here. Mostly this is because I want to hear the songs live, when I expect they will shine brighter than on the album (as is usually true for him). But since the concert is only six days away, I might offer a word or two.
Working on a Dream didn't grab me at first. The opening track, "Outlaw Pete," irritated me ... I didn't like the use of the word "pony" (honest, this really bugged me), thought the intrusion of the little-boy language (Bounty Hunter Dan) was unnecessary. To be honest, it still bugs me. But the music on "Outlaw Pete" is ambitious and successful, and that pretty much sums up my feelings about this album. The music carries it when anything else falters. I don't think the vocals are Bruce's finest, although in the quieter numbers, he's lovely.
But there are two things I think the album does well. The arrangements, recalling sixties pop, are mostly excellent ... he's never hidden his roots in garage rock and junk R&B, but here he shows off his affection for the Beach Boys and the Byrds. And the lyrics, taken as a whole, are strong on their own, and especially poignant when compared to the more brash adventures of his 70s classics. Song after song features hard-won intimacies ... you wouldn't say there's a lot of celebrating going on, this isn't "climb in my front seat and let's ride" but "we rode and we're still here." The world in these songs is sad, if not harsh ... the singer and his partner in love are survivors, and the world isn't a better place because of their love, but their love makes the world easier to take for the lovers. Once you get past the spaghetti-western opener, it's these songs that I find most evocative.
A few other songs get my attention. "Good Eye" is a welcome blues-rocker ... I look forward to this one next week. "The Last Carnival" does a good job of saying goodbye to Danny. And "The Wrestler" is as good here as ever.
As for "Queen of the Supermarket" ... I don't know, sometimes I think it's his worst song since "Mary, Queen of Arkansas" on his very first album, other times I think it's pleasingly sweet. I'd almost think it was a joke if he didn't put so much feeling into the vocals. I mean, what are we to make of the last verse?
As I lift my groceries into my cart
I turn back for a moment and catch a smile
That blows this whole fucking place apart
Looking forward to next Wednesday ...