Album review: Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen. Picture: Danny Clinch.

Bruce Springsteen. Picture: Danny Clinch. - Credit: Archant

The Boss’ first studio album in five years is a masterclass in understated Americana.

Album cover for Springsteen's 19th studio album, Western Stars.

Album cover for Springsteen's 19th studio album, Western Stars. - Credit: Archant

Springsteen's 19th studio album has been in gestation for many years, a project he put to one side when the elements came together for, among other things, Wrecking Ball, his hit Broadway musical and 2014's High Hopes.

It's been languishing somewhere since he finished it over the summer of 2015 - but the very good news is that it's worth the wait.

Partly inspired by the Southern California pop records of the late '60s and early '70s, it's packed with pathos and lyricism evoking the good - and often bad - sides of American archetypes and cultural touchpoints (escape, hope, vast expanses, dusty motels, rolling stones, chasing dreams and/or escaping nightmares) that would feel embarrassingly clichéd in less talented hands.

Foregoing anthemic rock for a distinct, understated Americana, The Boss brings a series of protagonists to life, taking in high hopes (Tuscon Train), the simple sweetness of freedom (album opener Hitch Hikin') dashed dreams (Moonlight Motel) and loneliness (Sundown).

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Much of it is unassuming yet excellent. Stones is an instant classic - a slow-paced and emotionally-loaded ballad centred on a swirling violin-and-piano motif and the bitter imprint left by a dishonest lover.

Clocking in at less than two minutes, Somewhere North Of Nashville is a fleeting but touching country-fied vignette of sadness and regret, his protagonist lying awake in the middle of the night "making lists of the things that I didn't do right".

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Elsewhere Springsteen tips his ten-gallon to the cowboy life on the sweeping, widescreen title track, while Chasin' Wild Horses builds from a violin intro to slide guitar and finger-picked banjo, reaching a stately conclusion on a bed of sweeping violins and brass. Its unnamed protagonist reflects soberly and powerfully on a life spent running away - into hard work and hard liquor - from the pain of a lost love.

If this is Springsteen accepting his invitation to join the pantheon of American elder statesmen, he'll be welcomed with open arms.

4/5 stars.

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