A new Bruce Springsteen album less than 2 years after the last one? Can it be too good to be true?
The Boss spoils his fans with an unexpected treasure trove of re-recorded fan favourites and a few lost gems. It's not all gold, but it's a welcome addition to the canon!
Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes (14/01/14 via Columbia)
It would be wrong for me not to declare a certain bias when discussing 'The Boss'. As a man completely indifferent to football from a family of obsessives the music of Bruce Springsteen has always been one of the few things which has bound me and my father. Every album and every tour is always an 'event' in the Hiorns camp and this belated stop-gap album is no different. Regardless however I shall try and cast a distant and critical eye over what is (at the end of the day) technically an out-takes album, though the truth is, it might just be one of the best out-takes album I have ever heard.
Let's get the facts out of the way first. 3 of the 12 songs included here are covers and 2 are reimagined renditions of old staples so technically there are only 7 new songs here and even the majority of them have been aired at one point or another on one of Springsteen's many world tours. So for long time fans (myself included) there will be little to discover here, but that doesn't make it any less of a flawed but quite brilliant collection of songs.
The title track plays like a cut from Springsteen's 'Seeger Sessions' album only with more bite and a little more balls. It's a triumphant opening number that out does the original Tim Scott version by a fair margin. The same could be said of the closing number, the Suicide classic 'Dream Baby Dream' which takes the repetitive misery of the original and turns it into something altogether more optimistic and tear inducing. The simple, pump organ arrangement makes it perhaps the most unfettered song on the record and it's a commanding closer as a result.
That's not to say the boss doesn't explore his more sensitive side elsewhere on High Hopes. Indeed, 'The Wall', 'Down in the Hole' and the absolutely stunning 'Hunter of Invisible Game' mine similar terrain and do so with a restraint not seen since the pretty but underwhelming 'Devils and Dust' album from 2005. 'Hunter' might in fact be one of the most profoundly beautiful songs Springsteen has ever laid to tape. It would frankly have sounded more at home on his last album ('Wrecking Ball') but who cares really, it's just a gorgeous piece of music. Springsteen hasn't been known to use string arrangements much in the past so he goes against type here but does so with surprising restraint.
Lyrically there are mixed messages a-plenty here, but then this is a record essentially composed over 10 years so what else would you expect? Still there is no excuse for the asinine 'Frankie Fell in Love', which is honestly such a write-off both musically and lyrically it almost sounds like a b-side from the 'Lucky Town' sessions (Lucky Town being a notoriously poor Springsteen record from the mid nineties that we do not speak of unless we absolutely have to). 'This is Your Sword' too sounds like water treading.
There are no more duffers though. Tom Morello turns 'The Ghost of Tom Joad' almost into a Pink Floyd song (a good one at that), 'American Skin' would bring a tear to even the most cynical eye and everything else is... well... it's the boss, not quite in his prime, but close enough. Honestly, what more do you want from a 'stop-gap' album?