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Album reviews: Bruce Springsteen, Kate Tempest & Avicii

Understated: Springsteen’s latest sound is gentler and more romantic


Bruce Springsteen — Western Stars

Columbia ★★★★✩

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN has been so visible lately, what with his Springsteen On Broadway projects and a giant tour recalling 1980’s The River, that it comes as a surprise he hasn’t released an all-new album in seven years.

Western Stars represents a sudden shift of a kind he has made twice before on Nebraska (1982) and The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995). It’s very much a solo work, not an E Street Band record, and it’s downbeat in mood and tempo, but there the resemblance to Nebraska and The Ghost Of Tom Joad ends. Those releases were bare-bones acoustic pieces, while this one is lush and gentle in sound, and romantic in nature.

Western Stars is a foray into the music and mythology of the American West. Its spiritual godfather is Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman and here Springsteen has created 13 such characters — and a marvellous set of songs it is too.

This being Springsteen, his narrators are of a type: wanderers, men running from or negotiating with their pasts. The music roams across this wide territory, taking in genres such as Western swing and Nashville pop.

Western Stars shows how Springsteen can do understatement every bit as powerfully as chest-beating anthems. Subject-wise, this is classic Springsteen, while stylistically it’s a wonderful departure.

The verdict

Springsteen abandons anthemic rock to make a marvellous job of Nashville-style pathos.

Kate Tempest — The Book Of Traps And Lessons

American Recordings ★★★★✩

Outspoken: Kate Tempest

PERFORMANCE poetry is one of those endeavours (see also ballet and playing the violin) in which there is an almost uninhabited gulf between the compelling and the excruciating. It must require no small spirit to do it and when Kate Tempest leaps from the cliff edge, far more often than not, she flies.

Her third solo album is her boldest yet. Produced by Rick Rubin, it underlines her great strength: conjuring a worm’s-eye view of the world. If Tempest’s understanding of politics is limited, her grasp of how it acts upon and is experienced by non-politicised people, and how they defy it with love or other intoxicants, is unrivalled.

She builds interior landscapes through rhythm, cadence and, above all, turns of phrase that can make you catch your breath. ‘Total existence needs meaning and myth,’ she rightly proclaims — something those of us who identify as rationalists will do well to remember.

Tempest speaks powerfully from a place we all need to explain.

Avicii — Tim

Universal ★★✩✩✩

Distinctive: Swedish DJ Tim Bergling

IT’S tricky knowing what to make of music by artists who have recently died, doubly so when they were young and their death self-inflicted. The context instils resonance where otherwise none might have existed.

Tim Bergling, the Swedish DJ and producer better known as Avicii, was 28 when he died last year. Over two albums and a long run of hit singles he carved out a distinctive niche as someone who endeavoured to fold in other genres, in particular folk, blues and country vocals.

However, his ambition tended to outstrip the results, which veered towards the gimmicky and showed little of the organic quality Moby brought to the same idea in the 1990s. Tim, his posthumous third album, is a step forward in creativity but it feels little closer to the goal.

Are this record’s sometimes tortured sentiments a premonition of tragedy, cries for help that went unheeded? It’s easy to think so. In the end, it seems that Bergling was overwhelmed by the conflict between pleasing the public and being true to himself. On Tim, you can hear that struggle throughout.