California nostalgia as Bruce Springsteen introduces new sound

Bruce Springsteen will release his first new album in five years on Friday, calling it a ‘jewel box of a record.’ (AFP)
Updated 12 June 2019
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California nostalgia as Bruce Springsteen introduces new sound

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.


As Saudi Arabia gears up for K-pop’s Super Junior we ask ‘what’s the draw?’

Updated 26 June 2019
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As Saudi Arabia gears up for K-pop’s Super Junior we ask ‘what’s the draw?’

  • K-pop favorites Super Junior will hit the stage in Jeddah in July
  • This catchy pop genre has seen several false starts

JEDDAH: It is just weeks to go before one of K-pop’s best-known groups, “Super Junior”, take to the stage in Jeddah, adding them to an ever-increasing hall of fame as the Kingdom continues on its wave of modernization.

It wasn’t that long ago that fans of K-pop were seen as the odd ones out, but now they represent an increasingly large group of devotees across the globe.

K-pop music, a versatile genre of music, accompanied by an explosion of bright colors, flashy choreographed dancing and catchy beats, has fans as young as 10 captivated.

But what has made this once widely mocked genre turn from a freak show into one of the world’s most successful styles of pop music and why is it so popular in the Kingdom? Arab News spoke to fans to find out.

Local online shops and social media accounts in Saudi Arabia are slowly increasing merchandise of Korean goods including clothing, fan art, band merchandise and much more. 

Even Saudis living abroad in Korea have got involved and are pushing the K-pop message through their social media accounts, drawing in younger recruits to this increasingly popular phenomenon.

College student Yasmin Noor, 19, who has been a fan for four years said: “I got into K-pop when I was 15. When I stumbled across Choi Siwon from “Super Junior” on the internet, I wanted to know more about him. After that I wanted to know about Korea and their culture.”

How K-pop's global interest grew

Boy – and girl - bands are not a new phenomenon, K-pop is riding the crest of a rather big tried and tested wave.

But while most of the groups that preceded this genre are from western countries and sing in English, K-pop bands have largely stayed loyal to their roots, singing in their native tongue – although not always.

Even the United State’s Rolling Stone magazine joined the debate surrounding the genre’s growing popularity around the world, suggesting that interest in Korean pop music first began in 2012 with Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” but he was seen as an amusing gimmick.

Then there was a series of highly polished girl groups that hit the stage, including “Wonder Girls” and “Girls Generation,” who came backed with vast productions and massive budgets which promptly flopped, failing to capture the imagination of the essential US audience.

But why did they fail? Rolling Stone suggested it might be these groups simply “tried too hard.”

Super Junior backstage at their concert 'Super Show' (Photo Courtesy: Social media)

Now K-pop has dared to cross the boundaries and, with groups like BTS, started to encompass Western styles, while maintaining its Korean origins, delivering a more upbeat, feel good positive style that is starting to capture the attention of the US.

It didn’t matter that groups were singing in Korean, when the sound had something that sounded reassuringly similar but was uncharacteristically uplifting.

And it’s not just the US where K-pop is proving a vast success, it seems the Gulf region loves it too.

Social media was always going to help

Saudi-based life coach and HR officer, Nora Alrifai, 27, said: “The appeal for me was how some songs moved my heartstrings even though I didn’t understand anything they were saying.”

And her fascination with Korea didn’t stop there, she said the country’s local TV dramas have also been a serious draw as her love of Korean media continues to grow.

K-pop’s recent success around the world has caught many by surprise, but the brand’s normalization into such a competitive market could be, in part, due to collaborations with western acts.

But Alrifai believes social media has played a big part.

“Due to the globalization and the excessive use of social media, the world is becoming a global village and everyone has access now to other cultures and their art,” she said.

Rowaida Fuad, the chef behind Sakura Topia, a restaurant that serves authentic Korean and Japanese food said she was initially a K-Pop fan: “I got into K-Pop when I was in university in 2005. At that time it was becoming famous among students who had internet access.”

One of the biggest online K-pop communities “Soompi,” which started in 1998, boasts a user base of 22 million and still growing, with the vast majority being from around the globe and not Korean.

And there’s evidence, Rolling Stone suggested, that its millions of users are spending hours translating lyrics and analyzing the videos which accompany to catchy tracks.

Yasmin Noor recalled how she first discovered the colorful world of K-pop, she said; “What made me like them was definitely their dancing skills and the most impressive of all was the production value that goes into their music videos.”

“Super Junior” will perform in Saudi Arabia at the Jeddah Season on July 12, and fans are eagerly awaiting the announcement of the tickets, a first of its kind in the Kingdom that will surely not be the last.