Album of the Week: Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars

After over 50 years as a working musician (an entire lifetime: “I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life!,” he told us during his Broadway show), you’d think Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t have anything new up his sleeve.

But you’d be wrong.

Western Stars, his 19th studio album, isn’t the heartland rock ‘n’ roll for which he became famous, nor is it the spare (and occasionally bleak) folk of Nebraska or The Ghost of Tom Joad. This is a collection of classic American songwriting backed by sweeping and uplifting orchestral arrangements that could be the soundtrack for an epic Western. The songwriting is strong and melodic, while the lyrics (not surprisingly for a man who’s coming up on 70) reflect a strong concern with mortality.

Bruce has always excelled at character portraits and he’s at his best here. “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)” paints a melancholy picture of a stuntman (duh!) looking back at a life spent driving fast and falling hard. The moving title track does the same for an old B-movie star who’s just glad to wake up with his boots still on, and remembers the one time he was shot by John Wayne at the end of a film, the moment that made his life.

There are some pop gems here, as well. “Sundown” is simply a beautiful pop song and “There Goes My Miracle” has a wonderful rising chorus reminiscent of ’60s pop.

A strong collection and a reminder (if we even needed one) of Springsteen’s outsized contribution to American music.

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