The sun setting over an open road, small towns down on their luck — and a horse galloping through the desert? The Boss is back, and bigger than ever.
Bruce Springsteen released his first new album in five years on June 14, calling it a “jewel box of a record.” “This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Springsteen said.
He still belts out melancholy ruminations on the American condition in his signature gravelly voice, but in this, his 19th album, his inspiration has changed. Instead of small Rust Belt towns worn down by the decline of the economy and morale, he turns to southern Californian country-pop classics of the 1960s and 1970s, infusing his music with a deep nostalgia for a golden era of the US, slowly becoming buried under Californian sand, but with hope for its return.
The result is a 13-track album — titled “Western Stars” — that covers “a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community,” said the 69-year-old rocker in a statement. But also of “the permanence of home and hope.”
The album’s first single, “Hello Sunshine,” which dropped in April, sounds like a slow country ballad, with lyrics that invite hope back into an old underdog’s life. Springsteen followed the song with “Tucson Train” in May, which tells the story of a man turning his life around. The tentatively optimistic lyrics are set to classical instruments, including an entire brass section to replace Springsteen’s late musical partner in crime, the much-loved E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011.
“Western Stars” — whose cover art shows a horse with a glossy brown coat galloping across the desert — pays homage to musicians of Springsteen’s young adulthood. The album features echoes of Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and, particularly in “Hello Sunshine,” Harry Nilsson’s version of “Everybody’s Talkin.” By playing with what has long fascinated him, Springsteen reveals more of himself, in a manner true to his characteristic sincere melancholy.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
This is not the first time Springsteen has looked to California for inspiration. Back when he was the frontman for the band Steel Mill, he attempted to break out of New Jersey between 1969 and 1971, convinced his blend of rock and rhythm and blues would be better understood in the Golden State. In 1972, he wrote the song “California,” a year after his parents moved to the titular state. He moved there himself in 1991, where he married guitarist Patti Scialfa, who is still a member of the E Street Band. A few years later, Springsteen recorded his album “The Ghost of Tom Joad” at his home in Los Angeles, which went on to win the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album since 2014’s “High Hopes,” which followed “Wrecking Ball” in 2012. It also comes months after the artist closed his wildly successful run on Broadway, a 236-concert residency that is now available streaming on Netflix. When the show ended in December after several renewals, it was one of Broadway’s most coveted tickets, with resale prices running upwards of $1,000.
這張專輯今年四月推出的第一支單曲〈Hello Sunshine〉，聽起來像是慢板的鄉村抒情歌曲，歌詞敘述一名年邁而沒沒無聞的失敗者，期待希望再度注入人生。史普林斯汀隨後在五月推出第二支單曲〈Tucson Train〉，描述一位男子翻轉人生的故事。謹慎而樂觀的歌詞，加入古典樂器配樂，其中包括一整組銅管樂器聲部，取代史普林斯汀以前的玩團死黨，也就是在二○一一年過世、深受大家喜愛的東街樂團薩克斯風手克萊倫斯‧克萊蒙斯。
《西部之星》──專輯封面呈現一隻棕色的馬，毛色充滿光澤，奔馳著穿越沙漠──是史普林斯汀對青年時代崇拜的音樂家寫下的致敬之作。專輯中回顧葛倫‧坎伯、洛依‧奧比森等傳奇鄉村歌手，更在〈Hello Sunshine〉一曲中隱約聽見哈利‧尼爾森翻唱的〈Everybody’s Talkin’〉。史普林斯汀藉由玩著這些讓他深深著迷多年的音樂，透露出更多關於他自己的那一面，並在某種程度上忠實反映出這名歌手獨特而誠懇的憂傷思緒。
繼二○一二年發行專輯《Wrecking Ball》（台灣翻譯為「分崩離析」），緊跟著在二○一四年推出《High Hopes》（台灣翻譯為「萬眾矚目」）之後，《西部之星》是史普林斯汀多年來的首張錄音室專輯。這位樂壇傳奇數個月前才在百老匯唱完兩百三十六場的駐場演唱會，獲得狂熱迴響。經過多次加演，演唱會去年十二月正式畫下句點時，門票曾一度是樂迷最拼死以求的百老匯演出票券，轉賣價甚至飆到一張一千美金。
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