Music

Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars: thumbs up for hitchhiker's guide to America

Clean up that mess on the passenger seat, says Malcolm Jack – the Boss is back to guide you on a journey under Western Stars

Picture the scene – you’re cruising down the road, a sharing bag of slightly melted M&Ms scattered messily across the dashboard, a several-months-long accumulation of parking vouchers, crisp packets and at least one mouldy old cereal bowl gathered in the passenger-side footwell. And upon spotting a grizzly handsome and expensively tanned-looking man of indeterminate age coming into view stood on the verge with his thumb out – he’s wearing two jackets for some curious reason – you think to yourself, “Yeah sure, why not?” And he hops in, and you move off without taking much of a sidewards glance, and then in the most unmistakably Bruce Springsteen of freshly raked gravel voices he suddenly politely booms, “I’m just travellin’ up the road.” Tyres screech! Panic! Clean, tidy!

Such is the scene suggested by 
Western Stars’ opening track Hitch Hikin’. Well, some of it, anyway. Scarcely could an album by the Boss – whom you may remember from such autovehicular odysseys as Born to Run, Thunder Road and Racing in the Street – begin in a more mystique-unravelling manner than with the image of him humbly thumbing a ride at the highway’s edge, headed nowhere in particular in no especial rush. He is a rock star so synonymous with the emancipating power of the motor car that his greatest hits ought to be subject of a question in the driving theory test. After 135 million album sales he can probably afford an Uber, but suspend your disbelief a moment nonetheless and let Springsteen invite you on an adventure through his most surprising solo album since The Ghost of Tom Joad.

Even the most devout of fans would surely be forced to admit that the 69-year-old has delivered more Ford Focuses than he has Mustangs in recent years, so far as records go. Serviceable enough an excuse the likes of Wrecking Ball and Working on a Dream proved to be to get the might and righteousness of the E Street Band out on the road (as he promises they will be again in 2020, in support of a new full-band album).

“At one point during 
Chasin’ Wild Horses Springsteen literally shouts into a canyon”

Inspired by southern California pop music of the 1970s and artists such as Glen Campbell and Burt Bacharach, Western Stars – the 
Boss’s first solo record since 2005’s Devils & Dust – doesn’t exactly rank among his more sporty numbers either. Its diversions into 
mild cheese are many, while its musical 
and lyrical depictions of cinematically sweeping Americana – at one point during 
Chasin’ Wild Horses he literally shouts into a canyon – trades more on 
the clichéd perception of him as a chronicler of the US of A at its 
widest of widescreen than as the guy who writes majestically in achingly 
vivid small detail about crumpled lives lived in shotgun shacks and 
two-horse towns.

But it’s definitely one of the Boss’s more curious, charming and easy-on-the-ear recent works. The Wayfarer blows with rich orchestral arrangements so redolent of wide-open, weather-beaten plains you can practically feel the breeze pushing back your hair. The title track contains the record’s best lyric from a down-and-out old actor who once got shot by John Wayne – “that one scene’s bought me a thousand drinks, set me up and I’ll tell it for you friend.” Sleepy Joe’s Café is an accordion-dappled polite party song harking back to the boardwalk romance of 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). There Goes My Miracle contains as close a thing as you’ll hear to a full-throated, swooning and distinctly un-gravelly Springsteen croon.

For all that he doesn’t want for company along the way, including from original E Street Band keys player David Sancious, you may find you can never quite shake that first unlikely image of Springsteen that the album plants in your mind – the lonely traveller, hitchin’ a ride through music, landscape and memory. Take the Boss for a drive and let Western Stars guide you. Just sort your car out first.

Western Stars is released on June 14; read our Big Issue cover story from last year on how The Boss helped bring down the Berlin Wall here

Support your local Big Issue vendor

If you can’t get to your local vendor every week, subscribing directly to them online is the best way to support your vendor. Your chosen vendor will receive 50% of the profit from each copy and the rest is invested back into our work to create opportunities for people affected by poverty.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Marc Almond on being the antidote to Thatcher and why he's probably a queer icon after all
English singer Marc Almond in a low-lit photo with a black background
Music

Marc Almond on being the antidote to Thatcher and why he's probably a queer icon after all

Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm
Music

Glastonbury 2024: There's a place for everyone on Worthy Farm

Travis frontman Fran Healy on unfinished business and why being working class is a superpower
Travis (l-r) Andy Dunlop, Fran Healy, Dougie Payne and Neil Primrose
Music

Travis frontman Fran Healy on unfinished business and why being working class is a superpower

'The Jazz Bar is too important to fail' says the couple who saved an Edinburgh institution
Venue Watch

'The Jazz Bar is too important to fail' says the couple who saved an Edinburgh institution

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know

Support our vendors with a subscription

For each subscription to the magazine, we’ll provide a vendor with a reusable water bottle, making it easier for them to access cold water on hot days.