There Goes My Miracle: On Springsteen's "Western Stars"

I wake up in the morning / just glad my boots are on.

There Goes My Miracle: On Springsteen's "Western Stars"

Western Stars is a triumph. It is full of big sky, red rocks, brown and sage and ochre and copper, goddamn purple mountains majesty. As someone who has been anxious to hear this record from the first time we heard about it (producer Ron Aniello mistakenly mentioned it in an interview, which is where the whole “Copland-esqe” rumor came from), it does not disappoint. And while the influences are big and undeniable—Jimmy Webb, Glen Campbell, the Wrecking Crew, Wall of Sound—there is something to that assertion from the perspective of the volume of the arrangements and their emotional tones. Think of the opening to “Appalachian Spring,” or more directly relevant, Copland’s “Billy The Kid” suite. They are accessible, inspirational, uplifting, and at least two out of these three apply to Western Stars, where most of the time, the music is picking you up or at least carrying you along.

It is also a dark album. It is a deeply sad album. It is an album that sounds like how depression feels. But then there are those heart-stopping moments of beauty and grandeur where the strings swoop in and Bruce’s voice, so large and so rich and so warm, descends from above and lifts you up, heads straight to your heart. I used to listen to new Springsteen records by getting in the car and driving, but I don’t have a car right now so I get on the subway instead and ride it from one end to the other. I listened to the record for the first time walking along the boardwalk at deserted, shut-down weekday pre-season Coney Island in the impending rain, with the sun still shining through to the north, and found it both made me want to run into the wind and cry into the rain.

If you’ve read my update to the massive Vulture list, you already know: I love Western Stars, There Goes My Miracle, and Hello Sunshine. I like, very much, Hitch Hikin’, The Wayfarer, Stones, and Moonlight Motel. I think we will end up hearing Sleepy Joe’s Cafe live, and I will sit down or have a snack. (I anticipate he’ll find a way to bring out the second line umbrellas for it as well. It’s a fine song, it’s just not ambitious in any way.) I was not thrilled with having to take a week to digest a new Springsteen album and then work it into the entire canon, and while I can say with complete confidence that the list does not reflect my personal opinion, but rather an objective one, I cannot say that about how I’ve ranked Western Stars simply because I haven’t had enough time to let it digest. I am certain that nothing on the record ranks higher than it does -- that part of the analysis was fairly cut-and-dried -- so maybe I’m just splitting hairs and defending the process for the sake of defending the process.

This is not a perfect record by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a gorgeous, brave piece of work. It easily resonates in my head, and it already gives me comfort, which is something that usually only happens over an extended period of time. That, to me, speaks to their construction, their timelessness, and strength. I am curious if these songs would have the same impact on someone who wasn’t already enamored of the particular musical style Bruce drew upon here, but, I mean, I also feel that you could send something like “Be My Baby” or “River Deep, Mountain High” to a distant planet and by the time it got there it would still make sense.

On that note, I am deeply sad that he’s not interested in putting a tour behind this record, or even a week of performances somewhere, with a small orchestra and a little combo of musicians with tight chops, and do these songs justice. (I also typed “Some will undoubtedly translate to the band” but as we all know, Bruce is perfectly capable of and comfortable with forgetting the existence of songs and entire albums, so there’s actually no guarantee that it will happen.) I also recognize that these vocal performances are not necessarily something that is easy to replicate live, especially for someone who is almost 70 years of age.

“There Goes My Miracle,” Western Stars: While the Orbison influence is absolutely undeniable, what I hear in this song is closer to Ronnie Spector and the Wall of Sound, maybe a little Smokey Robinson? It’s all in there, layer upon layer of gorgeous soaring classic pop, the time tested formula of heartbreaking story juxtaposed with a soaring melody. It is timeless in the best way, glorious and soul-affirming. AND WE’LL NEVER HEAR IT LIVE ⇐= I edited that out after I typed it, just so I had the catharsis of actually saying it

The only thing that annoys me about Western Stars is how the only quotes Bruce has given have been “We don’t need to talk about that” and “Don’t worry, my writer’s block is gone and I can write for E Street again so you’ll see us next year.” (Okay, that one is a paraphrase.) I am sure Sony were only too delighted that he was not at all interested in promoting the record that was actually coming out by dangling the carrot of an E Street Band album. It reminds me of a discussion that happened back on the old about the 2003 Christmas shows at Convention Hall, which, if you remember, opened with the Victorious Gospel Choir, whom Adele had seen at her church and recommended to Bruce, who was out there shaking a tambourine and having a fantastic time with. Someone on r.m.a.s. complained about having to sit through the gospel choir, and resented that Bruce was making the fans “eat their spinach” before getting to the good stuff. Which I realize unfortunately means that he wasn’t wrong in waving that E Street flag so that people would, I don’t know, tolerate the release of this one? Gah.


I wrote about a reissue of a 1956 Aretha Franklin album for Pitchfork

I wrote about the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds for No Depression (which is in print ONLY! subscribe, or buy an issue!). I got to talk to John Doe, Lizz Wright, and The Tallest Man On Earth, which was fun.

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