Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album is a mixture of covers, new songs and re-workings of older material, but don’t come to this album thinking it’s a thrown together collection.
High Hopes is an album that stands up as a complete, cohesive release and is one of the finest Springsteen albums of recent years.
Album opener High Hopes builds from a 1950s referencing (and I Want Candy like) scratchy rockabilly guitar riff, and is a high energy opener that sets the scene for the majority of the album.
Harry’s Place is a track originally recorded during The Rising sessions. The vocal effects and the distorted sax remind me a little (ok, a LOT) of the Sopranos theme by Alabama 3 (probably no coincidence as the track references seedy characters meeting up in Harry’s Place).
“You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls, these are the rules, this is the world”
Some wonderful guitar work at the end of the song (I’ve not seen the liner notes yet, but I presume from Tom Morello).
American Skin (41 Shots) appears for the first time in studio form. Heavily processed synths and percussion underpin one of the two seven minute plus tracks on the album. A moving song, thats grown over the many years it has been performed live (the song was written in 2000). A definite album highlight, and one of the best Springsteen songs of any era.
“Is it a gun, is it a knife – Is it a wallet, this is your life”
Just Like Fire Would is a song written by Chris Bailey of Australian new wave band The Saints – of (I’m) Stranded fame. I love how 70s punk bands used paragraphs. (Get a) Grip (on Yourself) etc. But I digress!
Springsteen’s vocal power has lost none of it’s bite, and the shared vocals with Steve Van Zandt recall the Darkness on the Edge of Town / The River era. There are hints of The Beatles in the horn arrangement midway through the song and a Byrds like guitar sound features throughout.
Down In The Hole opens with industrial sounding percussion and mournful banjo that brings to mind a long lost 19th Century America. The drums reference I’m on Fire, one of my favourite Springsteen songs. Down In The Hole is simply a beautiful, emotive piece, with multiple layers and a wonderful, evolving production.
I love the production twist early on in the song, it’s as if the song moves from the past to the present. This is shaping up to be my favourite song on the album.
Heaven’s Wall fully utilises the power of the current, expanded touring E Street Band. I look forward to hearing this song live (come back to the UK soon please Bruce).
The production really is top drawer on this album – a previously hidden in the mix bassline sneaks to the fore 3/4 of the way through this song, along with some powerful guitar and percussion workouts.
Frankie Fell In Love is a piece of Americana that zips by in just over two minutes 46 seconds. Just as it hits home, it’s gone and you are listening to the Gaelic flavoured This Is Your Sword.
Hunter Of Invisible Game is a rare down-tempo track on High Hopes. An addictive riff, alternating between strings and guitar, underpins this slow paced but nonetheless uplifting track. Percussion and a rustic sounding acoustic guitar give way to a rich arrangement as the song progresses.
“Your skin touches mine, what else to explain, I am the hunter of invisible game.”
The Ghost of Tom Joad will be familiar to long-term Springsteen fans, but this 2013 take sends the song somewhere else. Gone is the sparse instrumentation of the 1995 original, and the full band and co-vocalist Tom Morello make this into a companion piece to Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane.
The Wall is a tribute to the memories of those who never returned from Vietnam. A lightness of touch in the performance, with respectful, restrained playing, makes this one of the most moving songs in Springsteen’s canon.
“On the ground, dog-tags and wreaths of flowers
With the ribbons red as the blood”
I dare you to not feel choked up on your first listen to The Wall, especially when the trumpet fades out during the songs final refrain. That Springsteen is releasing songs of this quality 18 albums down the line is remarkable.
The Suicide song Dream Baby Dream is a fitting album closer. Looped percussion and dark textures underpin the mantra like track that lifts you after the raw emotion of the preceding song.
“Come on, we’ve gotta keep the fire burning.”
High Hopes does not trade on cheap nostalgia,but proves, just like David Bowie did last year, that age is not a barrier to making truly great music. This is an album that would have been rightly lauded if it had been released by The Boss in the late 1970s.
I’m only seven days into 2014 and I’ve already heard a contender for album of the year.
American Skin (41 Shots)
Just Like Fire Would
Down In The Hole
Frankie Fell In Love
This Is Your Sword
Hunter Of Invisible Game
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Dream Baby Dream
Buy Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes on Amazon UK