Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen
Western Stars
** out of *****

When it was announced that a month after Western Stars release that there would be an accompanying movie/documentary and it would be Springsteen's directorial debut Western Stars (the record) made more sense as the word "theatrical" kept popping up in our review notes.

A nod to what he calls Southern California Pop of the 70's (RtBE would say it is much more orientated towards 50's pop) Western Stars is a one off experiment with orchestrated parts around Bruce's tales of isolation and wandering. It is an interesting slight departure in style (Bruce has always been big and dramatic), proving The Boss doesn't want to stay stagnant, however the end results are over the top schmaltzy, not matching the lyrics and sounds easily on all of the efforts.

Each track is predominately the same, starting small as Springsteen weaves a lonely tale before layers upon layers of sound and instrumentation slowly sweeps in with rising grandeur and pomposity. There are some unique touches, maracas and female breathy vocals color "The Wayfarer" in a warm Mexican sunset sound while the sense of despair and physical pain of "Drive Fast (The Stuntman)" gets undercut by the swelling sounds. The title track mixes up movie sets with whiskey, gin and southwestern winds, as closer takes gorgeous guitar lines and piano while describing a desolate scene at the "Moonlight Motel".

Songs like "Tuscan Train" and "Sleepy Joe's Cafe" both could have been on The Rising, except these versions gets pumped up by strings, accordions and horns before "Chasin' Wild Horses" finds strong vocals from Springsteen around cinematic string sections going directly over the top, dripping effortlessly into "Sundown". The movie/documentary makes sense, and even though he just had a long Broadway stand, Western Stars could be reshaped as a Broadway musical with very little effort. 

This is the fourth western looking solo album from the Jersey Devil who clearly finds inspiration from the wide open vistas and sense of isolation that the western United States calls to mind, whether on film or in reality. Western Stars will join Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad, and Devils & Dust as his cowboy hat wearing records and as an experiment it moves to the back of his own personal line of western records; more of an oddity in his career than must hear. 
It is a testament to Bruce that while we look back at his career this month in our Masters series, he is still out there growing as an artist and trying out new things. Support the artist, buy the record and peep some video below:

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