WASHINGTON: The sun setting over an open road, small towns down on their luck — and a horse galloping through the desert? The Boss is back, and bigger than ever.
Bruce Springsteen will release his first new album in five years on Friday, calling it a “jewel box of a record.”
“This record is a return to my solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements,” Springsteen said.
He still belts out melancholy ruminations on the American condition in his signature gravely voice, but in this his 19th album his inspiration has changed.
Instead of small Rust Belt towns worn down by the decline of the economy and morale, he turns to southern Californian country-pop classics of the 1960s and 70s, infusing his music with a deep nostalgia for a golden era of the United States, slowly becoming buried under Californian sand but with hope for its return.
The result is a 13-track album — titled “Western Stars” — that covers “a sweeping range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community,” said the 69-year-old rocker in a statement.
But also of “the permanence of home and hope.”
The album’s first single, “Hello Sunshine,” which dropped in April, sounds like a slow country ballad, with lyrics that invite hope back into an old underdog’s life.
Springsteen followed the song with “Tucson Train” in May, which tells the story of a man turning his life around. The tentatively optimistic lyrics are set to classical instruments, including an entire brass section to replace Springsteen’s late musical partner in crime, the much-loved E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, who died in 2011.
“Western Stars” — whose cover art shows a horse with a glossy brown coat galloping across the desert — pays homage to musicians of Springsteen’s young adulthood.
The album features echoes of Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and, particularly in “Hello Sunshine,” Harry Nilsson’s version of “Everybody’s Talkin.”
By playing with what has long fascinated him, Springsteen reveals more of himself, in a manner true to his characteristic sincere melancholy.
This is not the first time Springsteen has looked to California for inspiration.
Back when he was the frontman for the band Steel Mill, he attempted to break out of New Jersey between 1969 and 1971, convinced his blend of rock and rhythm and blues would be better understood in the Golden State.
In 1972, he wrote the song “California,” a year after his parents moved to the titular state. He moved there himself in 1991, where he married guitarist Patti Scialfa, who is still a member of the E Street Band.
A few years later, Springsteen recorded his album “The Ghost of Tom Joad” at his home in Los Angeles, which went on to win the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album since 2014’s “High Hopes,” which followed “Wrecking Ball” in 2012.
It also comes months after the artist closed his wildly successful run on Broadway, a 236-concert residency that is now available streaming on Netflix.
When the show ended in December after several renewals, it was one of Broadway’s most coveted tickets, with resale prices running upwards of $1,000.
California nostalgia as Bruce Springsteen introduces new sound