Here's a question that will undoubtedly be perceived as 'insolent' by zealots: has Bruce Springsteen ever really been an innovator? His long, hugely successful career would suggest not, although fans will argue that innovation has never been his intention. Adapting his style, of course, is a different matter - and one that was executed adeptly on 2007's gritty, rock-emphasised 'Magic', as well as his previous album of Pete Seeger covers.
'Working on a Dream', however, sees the 59-year-old Springsteen regress to Dadrock territory for his sixteenth studio effort. There are the usual slew of blue-collar anthems from the depths of New Jersey, designed for clenched fists (the title track), mid-tempo radio rock wrapped around that singular husky twang (Surprise, Surprise), and blues-informed ditties for some (unnecessary) extra leverage (Good Eye). If Springsteen is a songwriter renowned for finding the extraordinary in everyday life, however, he takes it a step too far with 'Queen of the Supermarket' - a song not only lyrically trivial, but with a melodic structure so basic that it could easily have been used as the slow set at country discos for the past four decades.
When 'Working on a Dream' is elevated from mundanity - as heard on the full-bodied orchestral reinforcements of 'Outlaw Pete', the evocative, bare-boned 'Last Carnival', and the sensitively-played closing track 'The Wrestler' - it's satisfactory, but moments of genuine excitement are few and far-between. He may be universally adored and practically critic-proof, but that certainly doesn't mean that 'The Boss' is incapable of making a dull album. This, unfortunately, is a dull album.