The Cinematic Magic of Americana Captured By a Master.
Well; it’s finally here ……. and any new Bruce Springsteen album has to worthy of celebration, doesn’t it?
‘Yes’ is the required answer.
That said, the last few haven’t been that great though, have they? Without resorting to Google I guess you can’t name any of the last 10, especially in chronological order.
But; and I’m giving the game away early …… WESTERN STARS really is special, and unless you are one of those boring fans losing sleep waiting for the new E -Street Band album (that won’t be Born To Run II btw) this is really special indeed.
The three pre-release singles appear to have only hinted as to the delights awaiting the more open-minded among us, stating with Hitch Hikin, a gentle tale of a loner ‘hitch hiking’ somewhere lonesome and windswept; and as expected is full of minutiae that most songwriters would miss out as being irrelevant; but when Bruce purrs that ‘the trucker has a dashboard picture of a pretty girl’ as the orchestra; and especially the cello build the background atmosphere into almost Hitchcockian proportions.
Apart from Bruce’s trademarked vocals; WESTERN STARS is pretty much unlike just about anything I’ve heard from him before; apart from possibly the vastly underrated MAGIC, which may have been his starting point for some of the characters herein.
This is immediatly followed by The Wayfarer and it’s not too much of a stretch to think that there could be some kind of ‘narrative’ linking all of the songs together; and now I’ve played the album to death over three days, it wouldn’t take a half decent Film Director to link everything together in one 60 minute film; as the stories and imagery here owe more to John Huston and Clint Eastwood than Woody and Bob.
Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t remember Bruce using orchestral scores in this way before; and as the singles Tucson Train and Hello Sunshine merely hinted at; boy can he use this format to bring his words to life in a way, his normal R&R ways can’t; with relatively simple songs (for Bruce) like Stones and Drive Fast (Stuntman) becoming epic tales in this format.
For a man of his age I’ve thought it all a bit ‘tiresome’ when he still sings about ‘wrapping your legs around velvet rims’ or ‘Dancing in the Dark’; but here his character(s) are older, if not wiser and just as troubled as everyone in Glory Days; and he’s not afraid of writing and singing about the things that effect our generation NOW; with the nod to Roy Orbison in There Goes My Miracle being a prime example and in the wistfully dark and brooding title track Western Stars he sings,
” I wake up in the morning, just glad my boots are on
Instead of empty in the whispering grasses
Down the Five at Forest Lawn
On the set, the makeup girl brings me two raw eggs and a shot of gin
Then I give it all up for that little blue pill
That promises to bring it all back to you again.”
Just like Bruce we are getting older, and still he’s singing for me and you.
I think I knew where to go for the RMHQ Favourite Song right from the get go; but the droll and tired Moonlight Motel which closes the album, is a wonderful way to tie up proceedings; and Somewhere North of Nashville is the ‘Americana’ song he perhaps had in his head when the first inklings for this album was still a concept; and Chasin’ Wild Horses is Bruce Springsteen using metaphor and his vivid imagination at their very, very best; but for me…… and possibly me alone; I fell in love with the upbeat Texicana of Sleepy Joe’s Cafe the instant I heard it last week and I’m pretty sure I will still love it in 10 years time.
For me, it’s actually the most commercial song here and I will be devastated if it’s not a Hit Single this Summer; and it also fits perfectly in my theory that this is the Soundtrack to an Imaginary Film about a drifter wandering around the backwoods and B Roads of the middle and Southern States, looking for ‘something’ but he doesn’t know what.
Only time will tell where history will place WESTERN STARS, and I doubt it will be anyone’s Favourite Ever Bruce Springsteen album; but it should and will make many Top 10’s and my own Top 5*; and I welcome it as it’s a brave release from this Rock God; and a welcome one too.
Released 14th June 2019
*My Top 5
1 – The River
2 – Born To Run
3 – Greetings From Astbury Park
4 – Magic
5 – Western Stars