Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Bruce Springsteen’s Underrated Album ‘Working on a Dream’

A couple of reasons Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen’s 2019 album, didn’t hit as hard as most Boss records upon its release? The title track, which was chosen as the intro single, came off as a bit pedestrian. And the fact that Springsteen made a Super Bowl halftime appearance shortly after the album’s release sort of put the album in the background in favor of his back catalog.

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The album’s reputation hasn’t exactly soared in all the years since. But we’re here to tell you that it’s actually one of Springsteen’s better later-period releases. Let’s count down five reasons why.

5. “This Life”

Springsteen celebrated the music of his youth throughout Working on a Dream, using unabashedly throwback sounds to pay homage. On “This Life,” you’ll hear backing vocals that owe a debt to The Beach Boys, along with Phil Spector-like production techniques. This is a love song, but one that comes at things from a slightly different angle than most. The narrator obsesses over cosmic matters, using a telescope to survey the lonely skies, trying to make sense of how he’s reached this point. Contrast that to the earthly wonder he’s found via the love of his life. This life, and then the next / With you I have been blessed, Springsteen sings, suggesting that there are miracles still to come.

4. “Outlaw Pete”

You will not find a more polarizing song among Springsteen fans. The joke among haters was that it should be called “Out to Pee,” since that’s exactly what many fans would do when The Boss would play it live. Yet we’re here to defend it as a fascinating change of pace by Springsteen. For one, it gives the E Street Band the chance to tackle something different from their typical R&B-flavored rock. In addition, Springsteen tells a fascinating tale within the song that can be best described as a supernatural Western. You can hear in Springsteen’s vocals a sense of adventure that one gets from being unshackled from an expected formula, and the song benefits from that feeling.

3. “The Wrestler”

Springsteen had already released this song in 2008 on the soundtrack to the Mickey Rourke movie of the same name, and he added it on as a bonus track to Working on a Dream. What’s fascinating is how well it fits with the rest of the album, and the theme of passing time and people dealing with that reality. In the case of “The Wrestler,” this guy has squandered all his opportunities for the love and union that’s celebrated in other songs on the record. Yet Springsteen finds a way to make you feel mercy for this character, even if he might not always be deserving of it.

2. “The Last Carnival”

Springsteen and the E Street Band lost one of their most integral members in 2008 with the death of keyboardist Danny Federici. They found an ingenious way to pay tribute on this track. Way back in 1973, Springsteen’s song “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” featured Federici’s accordion as the main musical element. For “The Last Carnival,” he imagined this “Billy” character leaving this circus while the others in the troupe, saddened, must find a way to go on without him. The thing in you that made me ache / Has gone to say, Springsteen touchingly sings. The song ends with various members of the band letting out a wail that’s part cry of pain and part sweet farewell.

1. “Kingdom of Days”

This is one of the loveliest ballads in the entire Springsteen body of work. It features one of his finest melodies, and he sings it with lungs and heart fully open. The music hearkens back to a simpler time, and the narrator and his lover find ways to push back the clock. But they’re also honest about where they are in their lives, embracing the special nature of the so-called autumn years. And I count my blessings that you’re mine for always, Springsteen sings. We’ll laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays. With Soozie Tyrell’s violin setting the bittersweet tone, “Kingdom of Days” can make those eyes mist up pretty quick.

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