Published Jun 12, 2019Is there any element of Bruce Springsteen's mythology more important than the road? New Jersey, maybe, but being born to run inevitably means chasing a highway line, and the possibilities of that winding, transient space are sacred in the Springsteen songbook.
That's where Western Stars finds itself: the Boss's 19th studio album — his first solo release since 2005's Devils & Dust — steers onto the open highway and basks in the journey. Musically, he dials in warm, romanticized Americana, with rustic sweeps of orchestration, crafting a sentimental, filmic ode to the in-between places.
His characters here seem either caught up in the momentum of their journeys or in recounting the barstool versions of who they've been. It opens with "Hitch Hikin'," a dawning guitar-pop ode to the thumb-out way of getting from here to there; right after, "The Wayfarer" sets restless strings behind a wanderer's lament that "your heart calls for the permanent places we roam." The protagonist in "Drive Fast (The Stuntman)" is worn down, but still offers up his MO as "Don't worry 'bout tomorrow / Don't mind the scars / Just drive fast, fall hard."
The arrangements roll and soar while leaving room for more intimate revelations, which is where Western Stars really finds its stride. Regrets start slipping into its latter half, like clouds crossing the sun: the acoustic "Somewhere North of Nashville" lingers on an old flame, admitting "I traded you for this song." "Hello Sunshine" dances warmly over pedal steel, strings and wandering bass, but centres itself on a lesson long learned: "Fall in love with lonely, you end up that way."
The line is emblematic of how Springsteen grounds the album's more daydreamy takes on wanderlust: by recognizing that the freedom of the road comes with consequences of its own. (Columbia)