Friday, June 14, 2019

Bruce Springsteen released Western Stars

Western Stars

Bruce Springsteen

Released: June 14, 2019

Peak: 2 US, 11 UK, 4 CN, 11 AU

Sales (in millions): 0.07 US, 0.1 UK, 0.24 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: rock


Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. Hitch Hikin’ [3:37]
  2. The Wayfarer [4:18]
  3. Tucson Train [3:31] (5/30/2019, --)
  4. Western Stars [4:41] (6/14/2019, --)
  5. Sleepy Joe’s Café [3:14]
  6. Drivin’ Fast (The Stuntman) [4:16]
  7. Chasin’ Wild Horses [5:03]
  8. Sundown [3:17]
  9. Somewhere North of Nashville [1:52]
  10. Stones [4:44]
  11. There Goes My Miracle [4:05] (5/17/2019, --)
  12. Hello Sunshine [3:56] (4/26/2019, 23 AA)
  13. Moonlight Motel [4:16]

All songs written by Bruce Springsteen.

Total Running Time: 51:00


3.658 out of 5.00 (average of 16 ratings)

Quotable: “A gorgeous love letter to the idea of songs providing salvation” – Maura Johnston, Entertainment Weekly

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

Bruce Springsteen’s last studio album, 2014’s High Hopes, was “a loose assemblage of covers, unreleased tracks, and new versions of already-existing songs,” CS more “a collection of odds and ends” CS Since then, Bruce wrote his Born to Run memoir and a sort-of companion run of sold-out Broadway shows in which he revisited his past via stories and songs. Western Stars therefore stands as Springsteen’s first “proper” album since 2012’s Wrecking Ball. It marks his return to “his mastery of the long form on wax.” CS It “is a gorgeous love letter to the idea of songs providing salvation, a credo that has animated his four-decade-plus recording career.” EW

Wrecking Ball, High Hopes, and Western Stars were produced by Ron Aniello, who also “plays bass, keyboard, and other instruments. Patti Scialfa provides vocals and contributes vocal arrangements on four tracks. The musical arrangements include strings, horns, pedal steel and contributions from more than 20 other players including Jon Brion (who plays celeste, Moog, and farfisa), as well as guest appearances by David Sancious, Charlie Giordano, and Soozie Tyrell.” AZ Springsteen did most of the recording at his home studio in New Jersey, but some additional work was done in California and New York. AZ

Comparison to Previous Works

“After a decade of albums that aimed for bigger targets and wrapped their intentions in songs that sometimes didn't fit their messages, and vice versa, Western StarsUCR is “an album with the consistency in theme and tone” CS that “yields some of the most charming material of the venerable star’s career.” EQ “The California country-tinged, cinematic endeavor sees the Boss reflecting, embracing the dark corners of his mind while introducing a slew of West Coast personas and an army of strings and horns.” EQ

The album is anchored by “the 69-year-old’s weathered burr — still one of American music’s most singular instruments, but a bit gnarled by time.” EW He also employs a “spare but emotional vocal style here [that] uncovers shades he hasn't used in years or sometimes ever before.” UCR “When the album coalesces, as it often does, it’s Springsteen's most satisfying since 2002’s The Rising.” UCR “On their own, the album’s songs are good, but together they gain more meaning and resonance.” UCR It “conjures a specific place and time – especially in its orchestrations.” UCR

Springsteen called this “a return to my solo recordings featuring character driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements.” AZ While Western Stars shares the “bleakness [that] runs through solo albums Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad,” EQ this is “a lush, gorgeous record that sounds unlike anything Springsteen has recorded in the past.” UCR It differs from his previous solo efforts which are “a take on the early 60s folk revival” GN with him assuming the role of an “acoustic balladeer who tries to channel the spirit of Woody Guthrie, with political references updated but affected twang intact.” SL

Late ‘60s/Early ‘70s Southern California Pop

“Springsteen has long been a master of nostalgia and here he shifts his sonic touchpoints back to the sounds that floated through his early years.” EQ He channels late ‘60s/early ‘70s Southern California pop – “not the widely mimicked Laurel Canyon folk-rock style, but the more orchestrated, Nashville-influenced manner of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell, with dashes of Harry Nilsson and Burt Bacharach.” SL “But because it’s Springsteen, both the arrangements and the character-driven stories possess a cinematic sweep that’s far more dramatic than the music of his reference points.” CS


The “luscious orchestrations [are] heavy on the strings and French horn, cooing female backing vocals, guitars that shimmer and quiver with tremolo effects, mournful pedal steel.” GN The arrangements are “unlike anything in his catalog. Springsteen albums are usually grand affairs but he’s never made one that sounds so vast and luxurious throughout.” PF The orchestration “is more panoramic than emotionally demonstrative [which] leads Springsteen in pleasantly unfamiliar directions, but seldom so far afield as to be jarring.” SL These “purposefully anachronistic arrangements – recalling jukeboxes, FM radios, sepia-toned montages, faded memories – carry an elegiac tone. It’s been a long time since popular music sounded like this, and it ties these characters to an era as much as a place.” PF


“Placing intricately detailed portraiture on massive musical backdrops has been a Springsteen trademark for years, of course, and Western Stars continues this legacy, transforming the enormous into the intimate.” EW “A press release characterized the songs as encompassing a “range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.” AZ Hot Press’s Pat Carty described the album as a “heartbreaking yet life-affirmingly beautiful record – both elegiac and warm, a trick few others, if any, could pull off.” WK

“Geographically, Western Stars is closest to The Boss’ last solo(ish) record, 2005’s Devils & Dust. But where that album turned its gaze toward Southwestern people and places to convey a sense of despair,” CS Western Stars conjures “the Utopian romance of the Western frontier, but, because this is a Bruce Springsteen album, it’s encountered mainly in brokenness and loss.” SL The album is populated by “a ghost town of broken male narrators” PF “who haunt its mountains and canyons” PF and “find themselves run over by a world that’s long-since sped past.” EQ They are “old and restless, lost and wandering,” PF “in search of or, more often, on the run from their dreams.” SL These men are “alone with their never-ending work and shortening timelines,” PF “ruminating on how things have changed, not just for the worse, but in ways none of them anticipated.” GN

“Hitch Hikin’”

Slate’s Carl Wilson considers the song reminiscent of Tom Waits “Ol’ ’55,” “with the music loping along like a pickup truck rolling through town.” SL Sung from the persona of “a drifter with nowhere to go,” PF the song celebrates “a time when a young person could trust that thumbing it on the highway was a safe and benign way to get from point A to point B and discover a little of America along the way.” SL

This “slow-burner” EW “becomes epic” CS thanks to the ”gradually swelling orchestration adding gravitas to the images the narrator collects during his travels.” EQ We are invited “into the backseats of three cars, whose drivers stand in for the pillars of Springsteen’s career. There’s a father, a trucker headed toward a big open highway, and a solitary racer in a vintage model from 1972, which also happens to be the year that Springsteen scored his record deal with Columbia.” PF

“The Wayfarer”

This song “depicts an almost identical narrator, [but] it stands out for its acceleration in momentum” CS and “tragic-triumphant conclusion.” PF “Springsteen reframes his wanderlust in a series of confessions. He acknowledges that put in his position most people would be happy with what they have. He knows his worries are nothing new.” PF

“Springsteen powers the orchestration with the E Street staples of organ, palm-muted guitar, and sun-dappled piano from actual former E Streeter David Sancious,” CS “who played the virtuosic piano solo in 1973’s ‘New York City Serenade.’” PF “His jazzy touch on the keys offsets the thump of Springsteen’s acoustic guitar and the earthy twang of his baritone, as open-hearted and desperate as it has ever sounded.” PF Springsteen’s “wife and frequent collaborator, Patti Scialfa, lifts the song even higher with her arrangement of celestial backing vocals.” CS

“Tucson Train”

“The lush arrangements of…the heart-eyed ‘Tuscon Train’” EW make for “an immediately classic-sounding Springsteen tale of yearning.” SL The protagonist “may be struggling with a pill addiction, but the joyous clatter of steam-engine percussion and horns that sound birthed from the Grand Canyon are enough to convince [the listener] that he and his life partner are going to be alright in their new town.” CS

He fled to “San Francisco to operate a crane in Arizona anticipating – with excitement and perhaps trepidation – the arrival of his ex-lover on the 5:15 train. He’s found some kind of contentment working hard in the Southwest, and here comes the person with whom he ‘fought hard over nothing…till nothing remained.’ Has he actually changed enough to handle it? The song ends on the ominous ticking of the clock.” SL

“Western Stars”

The pun of the “lamenting” EQ title track “refers not only to the nocturnal sky out past the Rockies but to celebrities from TV and movie Westerns.” SL The protagonist was once “a bit player in cowboy movies” CS who has been “reduced to hawking Viagra on TV and retelling his stories for anyone who’ll buy him a drink.” GN He “will likely die with that fact that he was once ‘shot by John Wayne’ [in a movie] as his most memorable claim to fame.” EQ

“On weekends he likes to head out to the desert to watch Mexican charros compete in rodeo events – another kind of ‘Western stars.’ Other nights he might flirt with some ‘lost sheep from Oklahoma’ in an L.A. bar, animal imagery that intersects menacingly with the previous line about a coyote crossing the narrator’s front porch “with someone’s Chihuahua in its teeth.” SL

“Sleepy Joe’s Café”

The album “works, almost without exception,” EQ although the “boot-scooting” EW “‘Sleepy Joe’s Café’ might ring a touch too whimsical for anyone who hoped another Springsteen solo effort would mean a return to the haunted prairies of Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.” CS The song “understandably tries to break up the torrent of poignancy with something more upbeat,” SL but it contrasts with the rest of the album cuts.

It “is a vaguely Latin-style accordion groover” SL that recall Springsteen’s “party-setting throwback songs” UCR populated by “hope-filled characters.” EW A “World War II vet…opens a restaurant outside of San Bernardino,” CS “an idealized oasis…where working folk of all stripes can dance their cares away.” SL “It’s a concept similar to The Rising’s ‘Mary’s Place,’ but the milquetoast world music arrangement and bland lyric make it eminently skippable.” SL “The E Street Band could have turned it into something more driving and potent.” GN

“Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”

Western Stars is marked by “moments of transcendent loveliness…[such as] the shivering instrumental coda” GN of the “simmering ‘Drive Fast (The Stuntman).’” EW The narrator, a former stuntman, has been “beaten up by the job and the life it affords.” EQ He waxes “wistful about his long-past daredevil glories and the girl who got away.” SL He “‘was looking for anything, any kind of drug to lift me up off this ground’ and found love on a B-movie set.” EW

The song starts and ends with “a couplet that’s one of Springsteen’s recent best:” SL “I got two pins in my ankle and a busted collarbone/ A steel rod in my leg, but it walks me home.”

“Chasin’ Wild Horses”

This song “prescribes its title as a means of counterbalancing pain; the arrangement grows more romantic as the chorus hardens into a routine.” PF


“For those wild spirits who worked 9 to 5 and somehow survived till the night, there’s ‘Sundown,’ a tour through a bittersweet twilight where you long for companionship.” PF

Springsteen embraces an “occasional tendency towards schmaltz.” GN On songs like “There Goes My Miracle” and “Sundown,” “he slathers on the high-camp strings and transforms his voice into a croon, denuded of the usual Springsteen grit.” GN

“Somewhere North of Nashville”

This “sparse miniature” SL “sounds unfinished” UCR when put in the context of an “artist famed for his highway-spanning, syllable-spilling epics and his marathon concerts.” SL It “is among the shortest, starkest things that Springsteen has ever recorded: an acknowledgment of how quickly a song – and life – can pass by.” PF

His rasp is “in full Steve Earle effect” SL as he sings “in a defeated growl” PF about “a failed country songwriter wondering if any of the sacrifices he made in his youth were worth it.” PF He gave up “love to pursue fame in Music City, where he fails more or less instantly.” SL (“I traded you for this song.”) Now he’s splitting town with ‘nothing but this melody, and time to kill,’ and precious few prospects of recovering what he’s squandered.” SL


“The coda of ‘Stones’ gives his stoic vocals an emotional counterpoint by way of a twisty, insistent violin solo.” EW

“There Goes My Miracle”

“The brokenhearted, string-laden ‘There Goes My Miracle’ certainly recall the era of Bacharach and Webb” EW although it can be viewed as a “schmaltzy” EQ song which “wandered in by accident from Working on a Dream, Springsteen’s misfired attempt a decade ago to catch up with more current pop. While the melody has potential, the repetitively anodyne lyrics should be ashamed to keep company with the other songs on this album. And Springsteen strains for a bravura vocal that he maybe (maybe) could have managed in the 1980s, but not with his more worn and surgically compromised instrument in this century.” SL

“Hello Sunshine”

The album’s lead single “epitomizes the record’s California country template.” SL The “hardened narrator” PF “looks for redemption on barren streets.” EW The song “recalls ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,’ the 1972 hit by the otherwise little-known singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe. But Springsteen’s take is a reversal” SL as he “considers how to escape the isolation he can’t help cultivating” EQ (“You fall in love with lonely, you end up that way”) instead of “contracting an addiction to melancholy.” SL

It “seems to be about transcending the severe depression Springsteen went through several years ago, and the destabilizing effects of his own chronic restlessness.” SL (“You know I always liked that empty road/No place to be and miles to go/But miles to go is miles away.”) He told Esquire, “I have come close enough to [mental illness] where I know I am not completely well myself…I’ve had to deal with it a lot over the years, and I am on a variety of medications that keep me on an even keel; otherwise I can swing rather dramatically and…the wheels can come off a little bit.” EQ “In this sense, it serves as the bridge between the album’s broader themes and his personal life.” SL

“Moonlight Motel”

The album closer is “an understated, fingerpicked ballad in which weekends of youthful erotic trysts at a stop ‘on a blank stretch of road/ Where nobody travels and nobody goes’ give way to years of ‘bills and kids and kids and bills.’” SL The “forlorn protagonist rouses himself from his ‘lonely bed’” SL and finds himself taking “a bottle of Jack out of a paper bag” SL and “glumly surveying the boarded-up” GN motel which was “an old rendezvous spot for him and an ex.” EQ

The song evokes the line “It’s better to have loved” from “Ulysses,” a 19th-century Tennyson poem from which Springsteen has previously drawn. PF The title of Western Stars also appears in the poem. “It’s easy to see why Springsteen finds resonance in these…defining works by a grief-stricken poet wondering if our brief, complicated lives are worth the legacy we leave behind. ‘Ulysses’ is narrated by a hero approaching old age, returning from a long journey only to realize he felt more fulfilled on the road. So he heads out again, ‘to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.’ And stay alive, if he can.” PF

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First posted 6/19/2019; last updated 2/5/2022.

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