Bruce Springsteen’s New Album, ‘Western Stars,’ Is His Best In A Very Long Time

Cultural Critic

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Ever since the release of 2014’s High Hopes — the least consequential and all-around worst studio album of his 46-year career — Bruce Springsteen has spent a lot of time publicly examining what it means to be Bruce Springsteen. He released a best-selling memoir, Born To Run, that delved deep into the relationship with his father — long one of the touchstones of his songwriting — and his private battles with mental illness. Then he mounted the wildly successful Springsteen On Broadway stage show, in which he likened to construction and performance of his “Boss” persona to a magic trick that conceals far more than it reveals.

That’s a lot of palate-cleansing in the past five years. Luckily during this period, Springsteen also made his 19th studio album, Western Stars, apparently shelving it for a period until it felt right to release. A self-described “return” to solo recordings “featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Western Stars seems ripe for comparison to Springsteen’s other solo albums, 1982’s Nebraska and 1995’s The Ghost of Tom Joad. But in reality, it is quite unlike anything else he’s ever done. If his recent meta-musings cleared some space between Springsteen the man and Springsteen the icon, Western Stars feels like the start of a new creative path unburdened by his own rich history.

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