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Review: Bruce Springsteen's 'Working on a Dream'

(Columbia Records/sony Bmg)
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On "Kingdom of Days," Springsteen ponders love and mortality and how romance can almost make time stand still, singing: "I don't see the summer as it wanes/Just the subtle change of light upon your face." Lyrically, it's one of the album's more moving songs. But it's also musically overwrought, with strings adding a thick coating of schmaltz and sending the whole thing smashing into the wall inside the tunnel of love.

Mortality looms over "The Last Carnival," the standout that comes near album's end. A gloriously bittersweet tribute to the late E Street Band organist Danny Federici, who died in April from melanoma, it's full of striking imagery and shot through with a haunting, echoing harmony vocal that sounds as if it's coming from the great beyond. "Hanging from the trapeze/My wrists waiting for your wrists," Springsteen sings. "Two daredevils high upon the wall of death."

The Boss is at his very best on the album-closing, Golden Globe-winning theme from "The Wrestler," on which he sings of struggle and survival over strummy acoustic guitar with some tinkling piano and buried backing vocals, but no stacked harmonies, no strings and no stabs at soaring grandeur. It's a stark, simple character study, and the most emotionally gripping song on the album. Funny thing that: Springsteen shines when he's trying to sound less like Brian Wilson, et al., and more like . . . Bruce Springsteen.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "The Last Carnival," "The Wrestler," "This Life"

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