Cover Me! The La’s “There She Goes”

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Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 9.04.03 PMWas there ever a band with a more tragic story of fabulous talent meets destructive perfectionism and bad luck? If I were holding a contest, The La’s would certainly be in the running for the top prize. Main songwriter and singer Lee Mavers was apparently legendary in his inability to live with any of the recorded versions of his songs. He insisted on rerecording them with new producers again and again until his record company finally gave up and released his band’s self-titled debut album without his approval. Amongst  fans, The La’s is an album that proves the band was more than a one-hit wonder. But for everyone else, if they’ve ever heard the group, it’s probably via their most played hit, “There She Goes.”

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 9.14.33 PMAnd what a song it is! From the hooky guitar lead line that lures you in, to the rhythmic acoustic guitar that anchors the song, to the hair raising vocal harmonies, the song really is poprock perfection. Personally, I prefer the original 1988 release of the song, produced by Bob Andrews, a slightly less sibilant version than the one worked over by Steve Lillywhite for inclusion on the band’s debut album in 1990. But they’re both great. Here’s the original and a Lillywhite produced acoustic version.

The La’s – “There She Goes” (1988)The La’s – “There She Goes” (Acoustic)

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 9.31.13 PMCommentators as disparate as New Music Express, Rolling Stone, Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Oasis all think the song is pretty much perfect. So it’s not surprising it’s attracted some cover versions (though not as many as I would have expected). The earliest I can find is from The Boo Radleys, featured in the Mike Myers 1993 film, So I Married an Axe Murderer (the soundtrack strangely also featured the La’s original). Despite a rather bizarre orchestral take on the opening hook, the Boo’s deliver an great poprock version, with slightly more rocked up guitar lead lines and instrumental breaks. Columbia University’s acapella singing group The Kingsmen (definitely not the “Louie Louie” group) show you can’t keep a good song down, even when guitars seem pretty essential to the tune. Their version sans instruments from 1995 is strangely alluring. The last of the nineties versions is from Christian rock band, Sixpence None the Richer, who offer up a lush, aching take on the song that is still pretty close to the original.

The Boo RadleysThe KingsmenSixpence None the Richer

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 9.32.22 PMThings get more creative in the new millennium. First up, Japanese indie band Beat Crusaders offer up a brilliant techno remake that holds on to the essential elements while breaking the mould. Then The Wombats indie things up with their live-sounding version from 2009, adding some great banjo and vocal spontaneity. YouTube cover sensation ortoPilot gets around to covering the song on Volume 13 of his Covers Album series, sounding much like the original in an acoustically stripped down state. Last up, low key poprocker Salim Nourallah offers a softer introspective interpretation of song from his 2017 album of covers, A Break in the Battle, with help from Chris Holt and Paul Averitt.

Beat CrusadersThe WombatsortoPilotSalim Nourallah with Chris Holt and Paul Averitt

Screen Shot 2019-08-23 at 9.52.22 PMGreat treatments of the song here but my prediction? We have yet to see the real flood of covers coming for this tune. “There She Goes” is such a perfect distillation of the basic elements of poprock songcraft in its combination of lyrical, melodic and instrumental hooks that it will prove irresistible to future bands. In fact, I think we have yet to see the definitive treatment (other than the original, of course). For instance, I would love to see an adrenaline-fueled jangle treatment from the guys who put together That Thing You Do or Fountains of Wayne or Marshall Crenshaw, to name just a few. Final treat: watch this interview and performance (of “Timeless Melody”) with Mavers and John Powers on Canadian Much Music from 1991 – they really were a killer live act!

Lee Mavers’ retirement plan is pretty much riding on this song so don’t be skint. Check out the various La’s releases and click on the artist names above to explore their broader music catalogues.

Power poprock: Deadbeat Beat, Lolas, Big Nothing, and Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold

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Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 9.28.38 AMHere’s a whack of artists that power up their poprock in creative and original ways. The melody meter is registering hooks that are off the charts!

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 9.31.09 AMDetroit’s Deadbeat Beat are hard to pin down. At times they sound like a punky Shins or maybe the Velvet Underground covering the Beach Boys. Detroit Metro Times writer Jeff Milo boils down the Deadbeat Beat sound as “catchy as hell, with melodies like kites caught in a summer breeze …” Their new album is Far Away and is it their most polished and melodic release to date. Opening track “Baphomet” showcases many of the band’s essential elements: a jangle acoustic base, a slightly discordant yet poppy vocal, and a host of unpredictable but delightful hooks. “You Take Me Up” sounds a bit rougher by comparison but when the singer hits the line about ‘the county line’ I hear James Mercer doing a poprock cabaret punk. And the guitar work here is exquisite! Reverby and surf-like, and yet not. “From What I Can Tell” vibes a bit of the Beach Boys, the Ramones, and yet the influences add up to something new and original. Another strong track that screams radio-friendly is “Fair” with its hooky lead line and smooth vocals. Really, the strength of the album is in the songwriting. I love the band’s sound but most of the songs here could also survive pretty well just on acoustic guitar. Case in point: the jaunty “I’ll Wait” or swinging cool of “The Return.” As an album, Far Away is a great listen, again and again.

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 9.32.06 AMIt is so great to have Birmingham, Alabama’s Lolas back with a new record, A Dozen or Seven Tapestries, and it’s another winner. Bandleader and songwriter Tim Boykin has consistently delivered the goods when it comes to hook-laden songs dosed with chimey guitar and reverbed-up vocals and they are here in abundance. The record’s opening cut and title track “A Dozen or Seven Tapestries” gives it all away: hooky guitar lines and shimmering vocal harmonies everywhere. Boykin does change things up in terms of song styles, channeling mid 1960s American poprock on “Dj Girl” or an updated Merseybeat vibe on “Lightning Mountain (NSFW)” or even a Steve Miller Band sound on “Assailant.” You can dip in anywhere on this record and find a melodic treat. Personally, I’m loving the low key jangly “Wish You Were Loud Enough” and the more straight-up barrel-ahead poprock blast of “You’d Go Without Nothing.”

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 9.33.04 AMPhiladephia PA’s Big Nothing has been described as a ‘90’s influenced indie supergroup’ (Rolling Stone) but all I hear are great songs and a muscular, crunchy poprock sound. Their debut album is Chris and it’s 32 minutes of sonically pleasing songcraft. Sometimes a bit heavy (“Always Prepared”), sometimes sparkling with an easygoing jangle (“Carried Away”), the record typically delivers a taut yet melodically-rich sound, apparent on tracks like “Waste My Time” and “Real Name.” But one of my faves is “Untitled” with its almost country rock and live-to-tape feel. “Honey” is another standout track, changing things up stylistically and tempo-wise. Overall, Chris delivers a great batch of songs that amount to an impressive debut.

Screen Shot 2019-08-21 at 9.30.07 AMNashua, New Hampshire, population 86,000, is responsible for our next band, Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold. There must be something in the water in Nashua because this band is wonderfully weird, both strikingly original songwriters and performers. The band describe themselves on their Facebook page as an ‘indie/emo/math rock/whatever your mom calls it band.’ So, no help there. Here’s what I hear on Lousy, the group’s new (third) album: swooping fattened up vocals and unique hooks, with just a touch of jazz sensibility, particularly on tracks like “One Wrong Turn” and “Subject to Change.” But then check out the straight up poprock hooks all over “The Gang Goes On Tour” – bliss! The record does have some challenging avant garde moments but spending a bit of time with songs like “Those Few Words” and “Your Own World” ultimately pays melodic dividends. From a mainstream poprock point of view, Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold are more than a bit out there. But, like Nashua, ultimately worth the trip.

Personally, I think this line-up of bands are freakishly talented and worthy of a horde of manic fans. Preferably with some disposable income. Visit Deadbeat Beat, Lolas, Big Nothing, and Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold online to find out how out to become manic.

Top photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Jangle Thursday: The Vapour Trails, Family Values and Doug Tuttle

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Screen Shot 2019-08-15 at 3.52.05 PMSet your phasers to ‘reverb’ for this edition of Jangle Thursday as it’s a ‘celebration of sibilance’ of the ringing guitar sort.

The major news here is a whole album of jangle fun poprock from The Vapour Trails. Their new record is See You in the Next World and it is delightful stroll down quality street. While containing a few tracks from the EP Godspeed It released earlier this year (“Godspeed It,” “The Inner Truth”), this album is mostly chock full of fresh 1960s-influened jangle. Drop the needle anywhere across this record and hit a great song, from the Tom Petty-ish opener “Sonic Wave” to the 1960s sunshine vibe on “Drag It Around” to the more swinging rock-pop sound of “You, With Love” and the title track “See You in the Next World.”

Shifting to singles, Norway’s Family Values wowed us with the 1980s British jangle sound on their 2016 EP Time Stands Still, particularly the song “The Paris Syndrome.” Now they’re back with “Sayonara Eyes” and it’s another winner, this time with the vocals really reminding me of so many great Grapes of Wrath cuts.

Rounding out this edition of Jangle Thursday is Doug Tuttle whose fat acoustic rhythm guitar wash forms the perfect backdrop for “Long Day to Your Home” a choice melodic treat from his latest LP Dream Road. Imagine a Dire Straits/Bryrds collaboration and you’re in the zone.

Reverb’s great but it’s not free. Check out The Vapour Trails, Family Values and Doug Tuttle to keep the signal flowing.

A Great Record from U.S Highball

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Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 11.51.15 AMRight out of the gate U.S. Highball join the renaissance of great Scottish jangle poprock with their debut, the aptly named Great Record. The 14 songs included here immediately draw comparisons with the best of Teenage Fanclub, Dropkick, and The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising as Calvin Halliday and James Hindle have long played together in the delightfully whimsical group, The Pooches. Yet U.S. Highball is not merely a rebranding of their previous efforts, but a logical development of those influences. Great Record leans more heavily on a Brydsian jangle and a complex use of the duo’s voices on songs that alternate effortlessly between hooky popcraft and hints of highland folk. Case in point – these twin influences meld beautifully on “Summer Boy” with its distinctive jangle lead line opener. Or another candidate for lead single might be “My Frankenstein” with its swinging chorus. Then again, I love the mid-period Simon and Garfunkel vibe of “Old Place.” But then hear how the duo change things up with the rock-pop groove on “Where’d the Century Go?” Overall, you can get a clear sense of what U.S. Highball is doing by checking out how the band bookend the album. They open and close the record with their distinctive folk poprock sound on “Kelvinhall” and “Old Dumbarton Road,” leaning a bit more on the folk side of the equation.

Great Record is 28 minutes of jangle-folkish poprock good times. And don’t miss their 2018 EP Think Again, which contains three more highly listenable tunes. Just click on the Bandcamp link above to complete your collection.

Country time! Paul Cauthen, Mason Ramsey and the Cerny Brothers

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Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 11.07.43 AMIf rock and roll is the bastard child of an illicit encounter between country and western and rhythm and blues then I’d characterize poprock as bearing a bit more of the genetic stamp of the former. So calling country time is totally in order around here!

On a brief pass over, Paul Cauthen looks and sounds pretty outlaw country. But check out the hooks on “Once You’re Gone” from his 2016 album, My Gospel, with it’s Nick Lowe-friendly country shuffle and heavenly background vocal ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’. His recent album, Have Mercy, is another winner, channeling the stentorian reserve of Johnny Cash vocally at times. At the other extreme, 12 year old Mason Ramsey manages to capture some of the vulnerability of Hank Williams senior on this covers of “Jambalaya” and “Lovesick Blues.” For traditionalists, the backing on his 2018 EP Famous is a time travel trip back to 1951 with it’s killer pedal steel and fiddle playing. Personally, I love his cover of William’s lesser known “I Saw the Light” best. His new EP is Twang and though it steers more toward a commercial country sound its title track is still pretty sweet. Rounding out this country time is another track from the immensely talented Cerny Brothers, this time from their 2013 self-titled release. “Out of Time” is a banjo-driven, melodic traditional-ish number that is a duet with Debbie Byrd, whose vocals are moving blast of a more 1950s female country sound.

The Cerny Brothers – Out of Time

Pull up to the e-rodeo by clicking on the links above to get back to the country with these artists!

Breaking news: The Brothers Steve, Bleached, Joe Sullivan and In Deed

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Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.42.02 PMA very exciting batch of genuinely breaking bands and songs on this post that bridge the Atlantic, going the distance from California to Michigan to Uppsala, Sweden.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.43.31 PMThe Brothers Steve debut album #1 is a concentrated dose of poprock goodness. This baby is all killer, no filler, beginning to end. From the double A-side blast of “Angeline/Carolanne” to the hip-shaking good time feel of “She” to the tongue-in-cheek hooky hilarity of “We Got the Hits.” And it sounds especially sweet on blue vinyl! I love the mix of acoustic guitars, electric leads and sweet harmonies. Check out the mix on “C’mon Pappy” with its 1970s English power pop sound, particularly the vocal stylings. “Songwriter” ups the crunch with a great driving beat, adding just a hint of a “Paperback Writer” refrain on the chorus. “Carry Me” pushes the jangle pedal hard while the vocals have a lovely Byrdsian swirl. “Good Deal of Love” is my current fave, a track that would not sound out of place on any Marshall Crenshaw album. “Sunlight” has listeners exiting the album on a sunny, acoustic guitar-drenched mellow vibe. With three-quarters of the melody rocking heroes from Tsar in the band, perhaps it’s not surprising how strong this debut is. And yet it’s a clear departure from their earlier work in style and delivery. Look for this on my top album list this year, a ‘you-can’t-go-wrong’ album recommendation from Poprock Record.Good Deal of Love

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.44.35 PMLos Angeles’ Bleached advance from the punky beach esthetic that defined the sonic palate of their earlier work to a more confident glossy poprock sound on their new record, Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? It’s immediately apparent on the opening track “Heartbeat Away” – now the vocals are upfront and taking charge of the tune, to great effect. But that can’t prepare you for “Hard to Kill,” a delicious slice on late 1970s ska-influenced new wave. The track practically leaps out of the speakers, oozing Parallel Lines-era Blondie riffs and vocal mannerisms. The album is full of retro-brushed delights, from the Go-Go-ish “Somebody Dial 911” to the dreamy “Silly Girl” to the more straight-up melodic rock and roll vibe of “Rebound City” and “Valley to LA.” This is another full play recommendation. In a world of seemingly interminable single-teasing, Bleached have dropped an album that is worth putting on repeat at your next party.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.45.42 PMJoe Sullivan’s Growing Up Schlockstar is more than a sequel to his 2014 debut Schlockstar, it’s a clear advance on what were already recognized as formidable talents as a songwriter and performer. The record teems with familiar sounds: a Glen Tilbrook-esque turn of phrase and delivery, a bit of Jeremy Messersmith’s understated wordplay, and riffs clearly paying homage to bands ranging from the Beatles to Queen. And the hooks! They’re slathered all over tracks like “Mr. Positivity,” “Greenfield Acres” and “Time Machine.” Fans of clever lyrics are going to love “Gifted and Talented,” “Cheerleader” and “Space Princess.” Anyone who can effortlessly name check Starbuck, Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard in a song should get extra points!

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.46.31 PMEverest is actually the 2019 American re-release of In Deed’s 2018 record. Still, I think the band from Uppsala, Sweden can rest on their laurels a bit as Everest was their first release in 16 years. Luckily, it’s fantastic! From the attention grabbing opener “Another Start” (with its distinctive Killers-like guitar opening) and throughout the breadth of the album, it quickly becomes clear this is a group full of surprises. Indeed, the very next song on the record marks a striking shift in sound and tempo: “Five Times a Day” is a more melody driven tune, delivered with acoustic guitars and a lush vocal-focused sound reminiscent of work from Holland’s Sunday Sun. At other times In Deed channel a modernized mid-1960s beat sound on tracks like “Don’t Need, Don’t Care” and the jangle-heavy “According to You” or shift to a late 1980s UK poprock sound a la the Darling Buds or The Primitives on “Heart Attack.”  Sometimes they just melodically rock out with great driving numbers like “Song to You” and “Flavour of the Month.”

For artists to ‘break out’ people have to break with some cash. Visit The Brothers Steve, Bleached, Joe Sullivan and In Deed online to help make this happen.

Photo credit: Larry Gordon.

This may be your year

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Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 2.04.54 PMSongs about years, songs with years in the titles … anything for a kooky theme. If you were born in the early to mid-1980s, or graduated from high school, these may be your years! While I searched in vain for a 1980 and 1982, I do have 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1985 covered.

Things kick off with hardcore punk legend Kevin Seconds channeling his poprock side on a cut from his 2002 split album with Matt Skiba. “1981” recounts a lost love from that year. And it was probably for the best. Neon Trees’ take on “1983” from their 2010 album Habits is a bit more rosey-coloured, perhaps because songwriter Tyler Glenn was busy being born that year. His recollections are understandably hazy. Power pop stalwarts The Records come on all ominous with the George Orwell-inspired “1984” from their 1979 debut Shades in Bed. But it’s still hooky (in a “Break-up Song” sort of way). 1985 gets two treatments. Canadian west-coast folkie Ryan McMahon gives us a classic balladeer’s story about hitting lows both economic and personal in “1985” from his 2011 record All Good Stories. Meanwhile punky funsters Bowling for Soup took SR-71’s paean to crippling nostalgia “1985” to new chart highs in 2004, a cut from their The Hangover You Don’t Deserve release.

Kevin Seconds – 1981The Records – 1984

Years pass but in our constantly connected world it’s never too late to get caught up on some past masters. Click the links on the artist names above to connect with these acts.

Top photo is from a 2016 newspaper story about a fan who built a 1980s replica cinema in his backyard in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.

Should be a hit single: The Cerny Brothers “American Whore”

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Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 5.47.50 PMFans of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Tom Petty at their hookiest are gonna love the Cerny Brothers’ “American Whore” from their late 2018 release, Looking for the Good Land. Like their inspirational sources, the brothers head a crack band and there’s some pretty amazing playing all over the album, particularly on the boogie piano-heavy “Laugh at the Devil” and the beautiful, moving “Million Miles,” with its light harmonica and banjo touches. But “American Whore” is clearly the centre-piece of the album, with AOR hit single written all over it. Curiously, though the band has nailed the sound and songwriting style of Springsteen and Mellencamp, the song’s message is decidedly different.  Internet entertainment magazine PopDust quoted Robert Cerny describing the song as “… born out of frustration. So many people rally against capitalism and consumerism, yet don’t always admit we’re all a part of it. The system is a product of us, for better or worse – not the other way around.” In my trade (social science), this is what we call a logical fallacy. The fact that people work within a system of rules doesn’t mean they are the authors of it. But no matter. You don’t have agree with an artist to enjoy or even learn something from their art. “American Whore” is a great song that bodes well for future releases from the brothers Cerny.

Check out the Cerny Brothers’ website for deets about tours and new releases.

Summer snack pack: Vanilla, Space Dingus, Rachael Gordon, and Jenny and Johnny

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Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.09.43 PMContinuing on a summer theme, seasonal snacking has a musical side too where we seek out a bit of crunch, the tang of a few spicy licks, a selection of sweet treats, and something refreshing to wash it all down. This post delivers a variety of summer-proofed hooks in a sonic ‘bits and bites’-like format. Dip in anywhere.

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.11.00 PMAmerica’s Pacific Northwest appears to be home to a host of super poprock talent of late, including Tacoma’s Vanilla. The band’s recent Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a testament to the abiding freshness of melody-driven rock and roll, at times channeling Macca or 10cc on tunes like “On a Night Like This,” or midperiod XTC on “Let’s Call it a Day,” or even the Everly Brothers on “Be Not Coy,” or ELO on “Bankside.”  The album is flawlessly performed, smooth but not slick. And while you’re here, it pays to reach back in Vanilla’s catalogue for “Twilight” from 2015’s Vanilla 2.0, a real treat!

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.20.12 PMSuper 8 put me on to Space Dingus, labelmates on Subjangle records, and what a great recommendation it was. This is a band with an original distillation of 1960s sounds going on, working in a variety of styles and tempos. “Ronald Raygun” sets the tone right out the gate with hooky bass runs, trebly rhythm guitar, and slightly punky vocals. But then the group effortlessly shift to a spacy jazz Classics IV vibe on “Check the Exits.” On the whole, the album has a rockin’ party feel on tracks like “Haunted Shoes,” “Intrepid,” and “Honey Teeth.” Clearly, this would be amazing live band to see! And then “George” changes the pace again, slowing things down into an electric folky rumination. But the album highlight for me is a song that sounds like a great lost Monkees cut, “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight.” Killer!

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.21.16 PMI had the car iTunes on shuffle and a sound came out of the speakers that was pure pop rock bliss: Rachael Gordon’s cover of Paul Collin’s “Rock and Roll Girl.” At some point I had picked up her 1999 compilation of the same name which collected various EPs and one-off singles together. But clearly I didn’t really give it a serious listen. Now I had it on maximum repeat! So many great tunes. Highlights for me include her cover of Moe Berg’s “Man’s Best Friend” (sounding like a female Eytan Mirsky – or is he a male Rachael Gordon?), “Goodbye to You,” “Fun at Your House,” the Beatlesque “And Sometimes,” and an inspired cover of the Plimsouls’ “When You Find Out.” Her 2004 release Coming of Spring is also top quality, channeling Nick Lowe on cuts like “Where Are You Tonight,” the Go Go’s and Bangles on “Ariel” and the remake of her own “Fun at Your House,” or folk rock on “Dresden Station.” But save time for the closer, “The Farewell Song,” a galloping, good-time melodic romp. Why haven’t we heard more music from Rachael Gordon? Life’s not fair.Rock and Roll GirlAnd Sometimes

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.22.10 PMWhen Ed Ryan suggests something to me, I run to check it out. He’s a distinguished artist in his own right and has great taste in music. So when he mentioned I’d probably like Jenny and Johnny, I knew it was going to be special. But how special? I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. I’m Having Fun Now is the product of a collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her then boyfriend, Johnathon Rice. The record rocks off to a great start with “Scissor Runner,” a track that sounds like it was left off the Plimsouls’ first album. “My Pet Snakes” alternates J and J’s vocals to good effect in a swinging, hooky number. “Switchblade” goes a bit more country all Jayhawks/Blue Rodeo-like. And so on. There’s not a bum track on the album. Personally, I love “Animal,” “New Yorker Cartoon,” and “Straight Edge of the Blade,” but save my greatest appreciation for the delightfully earwormy “Just Like Zeus.” Enjoy this, because the break up probably means there won’t be any more.Scissor RunnerJust Like Zeus

So get out the summer snack bowl and crank up these tunes. And make sure to give Vanilla, Space Dingus, Rachael Gordon, and Jenny and Johnny an internet-like visit.

Go west with Bruce Springsteen!

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Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 9.29.25 AMBruce Springsteen’s new LP Western Stars finds the Boss back in top form, in control of his muse, throwing off hooks shrouded in poprock adornments from the past fifty years. The album has strings, horns, Bacharach and David orchestrations, Born to Run sparkly piano, and Nebraska-era acoustic guitar appegiations. And the songs! Not since Tunnel of Love has Bruce produced such a coherent set of songs, such a thematically clear statement of where he’s at. There’s hope, love, loss and regret – the usual, in other words. But the balance of themes and performance captured here in on par with some of his very best work.

Western Stars is Springsteen’s cinematic soundtrack of a neoliberal America. Where Born to Run captured the insecurity of a boom-time working class that might just lose anyway, Western Stars bookends Darkness at the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s prescient, dark rumination about the beginning of the end of the economic good times for working people at the close of the 1970s. But with Western Stars, the damage is now done, and his various protagonists are just trying to hang on. Or simply hang on to their regret. And they’re still drifting. Songs like “The Wayfarer,” “Western Stars,” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” all evoke that Springsteen-esque ramble, mixing steel guitar and a judicious dollop of strings. But the thread of possible redemption formerly dominant in Springsteen’s earlier work is much weaker here. With it’s Louisiana Cajun pep “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is the one backward glance at the good times. But compared to the dour mood animating the derelict and overgrown “Moonlight Motel” it can’t help but sound a bit forced.

Somewhere North of NashvilleStones

And then there’s the loss. Because no one does wistful regret like the Boss. The mournful “Somewhere North of Nashville” captures the pain of letting ambition get in the way of love, only to end up with neither. “Stones” is a slow-paced, country dirge-like rumination about betrayal. And then there’s the magisterial “There Goes My Miracle,” a song whose vocal soars with Roy Orbison-like beauty and sorrow. At his best, Springsteen gives feeling to that sense of failure that accompanies a late recognition of life’s poor choices. Still, the record is not completely devoid of hope. The acoustic “Hitch Hikin’” captures the joy of travel and discovery, while the horn and piano-heavy “Tucson Train” celebrates the joy of an imminent romantic reunion.

There Goes My MiracleHitch Hikin’

On this album, as with most of his previous releases, Springsteen provides no easy answers. His work is a series of life sketches, highlighting a nearly invisible working class experience. It exists as a curio for some, a desperate reflection for others. In the end, “Hello Sunshine” has the Boss admitting he may have had a thing for the lonely town, the blues, and the empty road. But now he simply asks for a bit of sunshine. And we’re left wondering if he’ll get it. Or, by extension, whether we’ll get it.

Bruce is everywhere. So check out Western Stars, give it a few listens, live with it for a bit, and see if you don’t agree it’s one of the best things he’s delivered in a long while.