Bruce Springsteen released his 19th studio album, “Western Stars,” on June 14. It’s his first studio album since 2014’s “High Hopes,” and his first album of entirely new material since 2012’s “Wrecking Ball.” It’s a change-of-pace concept album for the legendary rocker, who uses the collection to tell stories about characters called to the California frontier. So what do critics think of Springsteen’s new sound at age 69?
They seem to like it quite a lot. As of this writing “Western Stars” has a MetaCritic score of 86 based on 18 reviews counted — all of them positive, including a couple perfect 100s. It is being described as a “late-period masterpiece.” The singer-songwriter feels “rejuvenated” by his trip out West with “irresistible” sounds of “lushly orchestrated throwback, country-tinged folk pop.”
“Western Stars” comes off a strong couple of years for Springsteen, who received an honorary Tony Award for his autobiographical “Springsteen on Broadway,” which ran for a year at the Walter Kerr Theater. That event was filmed for a Netflix special that premiered last December along with a soundtrack album that received critical acclaim. He’s an Emmy contender for that special, so with that and now “Western Stars” he could end up winning Tony, Emmy and Grammy Awards within the space of two years. He also has an Oscar, but he wouldn’t technically have EGOT status since honorary Tonys don’t technically count towards that distinction.
Springsteen certainly isn’t hard-pressed for awards, though. Over the course of his career thus far he has received 20 Grammys out of 50 nominations, though he has never won Album of the Year despite bids in that top category for “Born in the USA” (1985) and “The Rising” (2003). His most recent victory was a decade ago: Best Solo Rock Performance for “Working on a Dream.” Will the recording academy see “Stars” in 2020? Check out some of the reviews below, and join the discussion on this and more with your fellow music fans here in our forums.
Mark Beaumont (The Independent): “A wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate … It’s a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece … Springsteen’s sublime portraiture of the American struggle — his protagonists walking with him through the ages of life as he goes — endures. ”
Chris Willman (Variety): “A concept album about loners in the dusty West isn’t the NJ native’s most lived-in-feeling record. But its ’60s pop pastiche is irresistible, and he finds plenty of universal emotions by the time he gets to Phoenix … Who was the sage who said, ‘I know I need a small vacation’? Springsteen has taken one out West, and he seems rejuvenated for it, even with the melancholy detours.”
Jon Pareles (The New York Times): “It’s not an album courting new young fans or claiming any 2019 zeitgeist. It’s more like a speculative alternate history: What if Springsteen’s music had taken a very different direction at the start? … The music itself is a kind of character study. It harks back to an early 1970s pop style that Springsteen — now 69, whose debut album appeared in 1973 — had nothing to do with at the time.”
Will Hermes (Rolling Stone): “‘Western Stars’ (out June 14th) is the latest visit [to California themes]: a lushly orchestrated set of throwback, country-tinged folk pop that, despite some resemblance to previous works like ‘Nebraska’ and ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad,’ sounds like little else in his catalog. Frankly, its sheen is off-putting at first. But once you settle in, the set reveals some of Springsteen’s most beguiling work ever.”
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