Review: Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen released his nineteenth studio album Western Stars just a few months shy of his seventieth birthday. It’s a contemplative record which sees a man acknowledge his advancing years while demonstrating total mastery of his craft.
As ever, Bruce inhabits various American personas but here, as is fitting, these folks are older and perhaps a little more jaded. Highway patrolmen and street racers are pushed out of the way in favour of a wannabe songwriter chasing dreams in Nashville (or somewhere north thereof) in Somewhere North of Nashville or, in the title track, a faded bit player living off the back of a story about the time he played that one scene with an ageing John Wayne.
The country influence is more thematic than musical, despite the occasional low-key appearance of slide guitars, banjos, and fiddles. There’s an elegiac tone here, but there is also acceptance – Bruce seems to be at peace with a passing world.
Almost every song is about displacement – the track listing alone is filled with motels, trains, hitchhikers, driving, and chasing. Springsteen is as restless as ever, but here he feels more like a spectral presence – a ghost in the landscape.
The West on this album is something intangible; deeply American, hoary, romantic, and on the cusp of being gone forever. Springsteen is lamenting the passing of something, his voice and song-writing roaming a lost vision of the western horizon in search of redemption.
The sugary string arrangements may prove too sweet for some but are a small price to pay for the real star of the show – Bruce’s voice. Springsteen’s rich tones have never sounded better. One of the album’s high points is a middling song – There Goes My Miracle – rendered essential by Bruce’s channelling of Scott Walker. It’s a vocal performance to savour, and proof that age has yet to dim Springsteen’s legendary fervour.
Bruce is ageing with dignity, tapping into the same contemplative mindset that informed Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad rather than the more boisterous albums in his catalogue.
In support of the album a movie, also called Western Stars, is due for release in October. Tellingly, the trailer shows Springsteen gearing up to play the album in a small venue to an audience of friends. Western Stars is an intimate, measured work, far removed from the bombast of a thunderous stadium gig, and a no lesser thing for it. 4/5