Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Release: High Hopes (Album)
Release Date: 13/01/2014
When I’m 64 years old I’ll probably be suffering from chronic back pain and arthritic joints. I’ll be plotting my retirement, sporting Harris tweed, quaffing far too much stout and becoming increasingly bemused by the music ‘the kids’ are listening to. Generally I think I’ll be an intensely grumpy old bastard. At 64, Bruce Springsteen is the opposite. The Boss is still a mega rock star and continues to exhibit effervescence, exuberance and a passion for music which is totally praiseworthy.
‘High Hopes’ is Bruce’s 18th studio album and is comprised of covers, curios and commutated versions of songs from past albums and tours. It was recorded during and around the international, behemoth tour supporting his 2012 album ‘Wrecking Ball’ which shows The Boss certainly isn’t afraid of a bit of hard graft.
The opening song on the album is the title track ‘High Hopes’; it’s the first single from the record, was originally written by Tim Scott McConnell and has been reworked since Springsteen released it on his ‘Blood Brothers’ EP in ‘96. ‘High Hopes’ bursts into existence with a throbbing, tribal drum and bongo loop, fuzzy electric guitar squalls and a beefy, rhythmic acoustic guitar before Bruce’s bruised and gnarled voice batters it’s way into the sonic landscape which is as Industrial and Blue Collar as the Jersey Shore.
‘High Hopes’ then ascends beyond the boardwalk gutters of the verse to the stratosphere of the jubilant chorus which has a carnival brass section providing a distinctly South American flavour, while Bruce and the E Street Band chant ‘High Hopes!’ like the congregation of a Gospel Church. Tom Morello, once of Rage Against The Machine and now an honorary member of the E Street Band, contributes a sick signature guitar solo with Wah-wah, wailing and gusto (more to say on Morello’s contribution in due course). The opening track is unadulterated, rampant, celebratory fun.
‘High Hopes’ is followed by ‘Harry’s Place’; the stark contrast between the two songs exemplifying Bruce’s capacity to create raucous rock ‘n’ roll recordings as well as thought-provoking social commentary. ‘Harry’s Place’ is saxophone-led (performed by the late, large Clarence Clemons; RIP The Big Man) with Bruce’s brooding baritone delivering increasingly scathing lyrics such as this potty-mouthed highlight, ‘Your blood and money spit shines Harry’s crown. You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls’. Awesome and angry Bruce Springsteen.
The highlight of the record is where Morello garners mega merit. ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ released back in ’95 was a harmonica-heavy acoustic track; a wonderfully melancholy, Dust Bowl folk song. It’s reimagining on this record is a collaboration between Springsteen and Morello. The stark Celtic violins of the shadowy verse evoke a widescreen 30’s America. The lyrics inspired by Steinbeck’s‘The Grapes of Wrath’ are sung first by Springsteen then by Morello before intertwining in impassioned harmony. We are then treated to an oscillating, looping, squealing guitar solo from Morello which is extremely exhilarating and gets one extremely, extremely excited.
As many have already commented, the record is disjointed and the songs don’t have the thematic connection of other Springsteen records simply due to them being written at different times and not being intended as a unified body of work. What makes ‘High Hopes’ a particularly compelling record is the astronomical potential that is so evidently there for the exploration and collaboration between The Boss and Morello. These two men together, with their combination of overwhelming talent and vitality, are capable of producing something completely remarkable in the future.
Reviewer: Joel Alexander