Exeposé Music’s first album review of 2014, starting the new year with something rather old. Chris Davies investigates Bruce Springsteen’s latest offering.
Legendary American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen returns with his 18th studio album, High Hopes, a solid if slightly fragmented work. Formed from re-recordings of older songs, unfinished works from previous recording sessions dating back to 2002’s The Rising and three covers of other artists’ work, the album is full of individually brilliant tracks, but combined they lack the thematic unity of Wrecking Ball or some of Springsteen’s earlier releases.
However, at sixty-four Springsteen is yet to fall into conventionality, experimenting with a range of sounds and effects throughout the twelve track album. Added to his ever-expanding E Street Band – which includes violin, backing singers and a horn section – is guest-guitarist Tom Morello, famed for his work with Rage Against the Machine. Morello’s guitar also featured on two tracks on 2012’s Wrecking Ball and he filled-in for Steve Van Zandt during the Australian leg of the subsequent tour. Springsteen speaks highly of his newfound ‘muse’, referring to him as an additional ‘architect’ in refining these songs and constructing the album. Morello’s guitar playing screams and soars through High Hopes, lending a contemporary, aggressive feeling that echoes Springsteen’s lyrics, while the pair also trade vocals in the new studio-cut of their blistering 2008 live arrangement of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’.
Lyrically the album is a mixed bag. ‘Down in the Hole’ and ‘American Skin (41 Shots) continue Springsteen’s critique of American existence, while catchy rockers like ‘Frankie Fell in Love’ are fun if lacking in lyrical complexity. ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’ is a clear stand-out, though; a superb ballad of wasteland depression featuring such dejected lines such as “Strength is vanity and time is illusion/I feel you breathin’, the rest is confusion”.
High Hopes also features three covers of other artists’ work – including the title track, which Springsteen previously released on a 1990s EP but has here been re-recorded with an improved arrangement. While Springsteen has performed these tracks multiple times live, releasing studio recordings of each is an unusual move, especially considering the wealth of original material that remains in his vaults. Nonetheless, using the breadth of the E-Street line-up and Morello’s guitars Springsteen makes them his own.
Fun, musically exciting and undeniably rocking, High Hopes is a lesser sequel to Wrecking Ball but remains a worthy effort from The Boss.
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