Monday, 27 January 2014

Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes

High Hopes is the sixteenth album from the Bruce Springsteen, tidying up songs written over the course of the last decade or so alongside a couple of covers and a re-recording of his Steinbeck-inspired anthem for the common man, ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’

Several of these tracks were recorded during a break on the Wrecking Ball tour with ex-Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and though on the surface purveyors of widescreen American rock and ferocious rap-metal have little in common, both Springsteen and Morello share a sense of empathy with the downtrodden and a debt to the works of both Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan that makes their collaborations less unlikely than they may initially appear. Unfortunately whilst perhaps shaking Bruce out of his roots-rock comfort zone is an admirable goal, many of Morello’s worse impulses are allowed to run unchecked. On the seven minute revisit of ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’ – explosively covered by Rage on their patchy covers album Renegades - he smothers the track in wah-wah sounds, guitar pyrotechnics and his famous axe-as-turntable screeches but ends up with a lesser result than the stripped back original.

Springsteen has never been afraid to sing songs about the little man even now that he’s a very big man indeed but conceptually the grab-bag nature of the tracks undermines any sense of High Hopes as a cohesive album. For aficionados a studio release for ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ – originally written about the killing of Amadou Diallo by New York policemen and revisited in the wake of the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. – offers compelling testimony that Bruce has had a much better 2000s than he had a nineties but bar a pair of classic modern-era Springsteen cuts High Hopes flounders under the weight of curious celtic drum flourishes and predictable songcraft.

‘This is the Sword’ and ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’ are as stuffy and lifeless as their titles suggest, whilst the plodding ‘Harry’s Place’ suggests that although Springsteen can churn out widescreen mid-tempo rock in his sleep Harry’s place may actually be in the retirement home.

Fortunately, the sax ecstasy of ‘Just like Fire Would’ and ‘Frankie Fell in Love’s wailing Steve Earle guitar swing the pendulum back in favour of the more uplifting end of his output; tales of burning love with just enough hints of darkness to navigate a descent into hokey cheese but when you stop to think what High Hopes tell us about Bruce Springsteen, about America and about rock music, you realise that this is more of a stop-gap affair than a burning romance.


Max Sefton

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