Bruce Cockburn

Big Circumstance

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This was Cockburn's first release of new material in three years. It was a move away from the somewhat dated, overblown sound of his previous World of Wonders, toward a leaner, more guitar-dominated sound. Budgeting for album art seemed to be a little low, but luckily the collection of songs was of consistent high quality. As with most Cockburn albums, this is a mix of socially conscious, spiritual, and reflective songs. Cockburn had spent time in Nepal in 1987 and what he saw there found its way into some songs, including "Tibetan Side of Town" and "Understanding Nothing." Time spent in Germany soon after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union inspired "Radium Rain," while deforestation of the globe inspired "If a Tree Falls," the first single from the album. Cockburn is equally at home writing about matters of the heart, though his lyrics take a much more unconventional turn in "Don't Feel Your Touch," with lines such as "the night grows sharp and hollow as a junkie's craving vein" and "the night grows clear and empty as a lake of acid rain." Elsewhere on the album, in "Gospel of Bondage" he takes pains to differentiate himself from right-wing Christianity and express his different view of the faith. Unusually for Cockburn, he ends the album on a slightly humorous (albeit dark humor) note with "Anything Can Happen," a look at the temporariness of life, where "anything can happen" at any time "to put out the light."

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