Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BRUCE Springsteen’s 18th studio album High Hopes sees the iconic American singer mixing covers of bands like punk pioneers Suicide and The Saints with originals and reworked versions of old songs.
It’s a typically magnetic collection of songs, which underline the qualities that have helped Springsteen to become such a global icon. And while some may bemoan the lack of a complete album of new material, his re-interpretations of classic songs are equally thrilling in their own way.
Album opener and title track High Hopes, for instance, is a rousing start, combining sharp guitar hooks, tinkling, gospel-based pianos (and backing vocals) with gruff vocals and a rock-folk chorus that gets those toes tapping. It sounds fresh despite being a cover of a little-known track by The Havalinas and early evidence that The Boss is determined to have some fun.
If Harry’s Place underwhelms somewhat by following in its wake, then American Skin (41 Shots) is an instant classic. The singer’s response to the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo by New York City police, it now gets its first public release in a studio version nearly 14 years after it was written having been returned to Springsteen’s radar by the Trayvon Martin shooting.
The song is haunted, thought-provoking, elegaic. It’s steeped in American songwriting values (the self-same values that are a hallmark of Springsteen’s career) and has that rare ability to stop you in your tracks and make you pay close attention. It’s just really addictive and we can only be grateful that it has resurfaced as powerfully as ever before.
Immediately after, Just Like Fire Would has an almost Wallflowers-like quality about its robust, breezier guitar sound and is a welcome change of pace that shows Springsteen knows how to diversify and keep things fresh before Down In The Hole offers another compelling tale of dejection from someone who has hit rock bottom, blowing you away with its lyrical honesty and haunted folk-rock qualities. It slow-builds beautifully to include a violin-backed finale that veers towards the cinematic and the epic.
Heaven’s Wall hits a funkier, gospel-backed strut (with a chorus urging listeners to “raise your hands, raise your hands, raise your hands”) and, again, succeeds in replacing the downbeat with the more positive to stirring effect.
While Frankie Fell In Love is another robust rocker that celebrates love. It’s alive with a classic rock vitality and is suitably brief, clocking in at a mere two minutes and 46 seconds. But it’s a good time.
In contrast, some three songs later, a new version of The Ghost of Tom Joad (previously recorded as a solo acoustic number) extends to over seven minutes and is the type of brooding, old country tale that Dylan would be proud of. What’s more, the guitar work here comes from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, whose solo moments are exhilarating.
Final track, Dream Baby Dream, is another cover version, this time of a Suicide track, that broods and charms in equal measure, supplying the album with a suitably memorable climax.
Springsteen, it seems, has delivered the first great album of 2014.
Download picks: High Hopes, American Skin (41 Shots), The Ghost of Tom Joad, Dream Baby Dream, Frankie Fell In Love, Down In The Hole