29 June 1984, by Wilfred Langmaid -
Veteran music artist Bruce Cockburn, for years one of Canada's finest, has come out with a marvelous new album in Stealing Fire.
Cockburn has surrounded himself with a superb all-new band on this new release, and he and they combine for a sound that is distinctively Cockburn but nonetheless fresh. Add to that lyrics which are even more poignant than usual, and the result is truly a masterpiece.
The best example of an optimized old/new fusion is "Maybe the Poet" which gets a special flavor melodically from the R & Bish bass guitar work of newcomer Fergus Marsh. Lyrically, is a peerless tribute to the poet. "Maybe you and he will not agree/But you need him to show you news ways to see," Cockburn sings, and the listener can only nod in acquiescence. Cockburn emphasizes that, regardless of how we label the poet-gay, druggie, woman-we should listen to what they have to say. He also firmly makes the point, "Maybe the voice of the spirit/In which case you'd better hear it."
The album's second song is our first exposure on Stealing Fire to the political side of the Cockburn persona; never before has he had so much to say in this regard. "Don't let the system fool you/All it wants to do is rule you," he sings, and that is the rationale behind saying "...pay attention to the poet/You need him and you know it."
By no means is this the extent of Cockburn's political lyrics on Stealing Fire. He was deeply moved by the state of affairs in Central America when he visited there last year, and this certainly comes through on the album's final three songs. "Nicaragua" is a lament for the strife-torn area where "For every scar on the wall? There's a hole in someone's heart/Where a loved one's memory lives." Cockburn clearly grieves over the fact that there are places where a kid with "baby face and an old man's eyes" stands guard with a submachine gun and "at age fifteen (is) a veteran of four years of war." He does not hesitate from taking a firm stand, fervently singing in the anthematic chorus "Your're the best of what we are? Don't let them stop you now/Nicaragua". Nor does he doubt in his mind who the bad guys are; "On the cliff the US embassy/Frowns out over Managua like Dracula's tower" sums up his feelings sicinctly.
"Dust and Diesel" is another clever one-a bit more subtle, perhaps, but the overtone of war and the sickening rich/poor dichotomy unequivocally come through. Cockburn's imagery is marvelous; a perfect example is the chorus "Dust and diesel/Rise like incense from the road/Smoke of offering/For the revolution morning".
Cockburn though, saves his most scathing political rhetoric for the Sodom and Gomorrah-type song, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher". How deeply he was really moved by his visit is obvious as he sings "I want to raise every voice - At least I've got to try/Every time I think about it water rushes to my eyes." The listener really believes this furious man's line "If I had a rocket launcher....I'd make somebody pay."
Great lyrics are nothing new for Cockburn, and you come to expect such imagery as "....your hair tumbles down like Sahara Gold".The melodies though, are a bit fuller and more ambitious than some of the straight folk of his past discography. In this song, for instance, a Spanish guitar gives way to a marching drum beat, only to have the melody evolve even further without ever becoming even vaguely orchestrated.
The most curious ditty is "Peggy's Kitchen Wall", we never do find out who put the bullet hole there.
Cockburn had his first real success outside of Canada with his 1983 LP "The Trouble With Normal." The inflammatory anti-American rhetoric on side two of Stealing Fire will not go unnoticed, but this album's statements put in words the feelings of many people south of the border as well. Sales all over will also be aided with a couple of marketable but very acceptable single-type tracks in "Making Contact" and "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." If people do not buy this thoughtful and listenable album, it is truly their loss.
-- from "New Cockburn Album Catches Fire, Bruce Cockburn-Stealing Fire", The Daily Gleaner, 29 June 1984, by Wilfred Langmaid.