13/1/14 – Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes – 2014

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen releases an odds and sods album and the whole world reviews it? The problem is that the album can’t be released quietly because it’s him and this album desperately needs to be a low key release. It’s a record that fans will love and then there’s those of us that have admired his greatest moments and always give him the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes even, we are pleasantly surprised: (Magic 2007) and other times we are disappointed: (Working On A Dream 2009). This falls somewhere inbetween those two.

It’s a thin line between bombastic, overblown and overproduced and powerful, passionate and polished – Springsteen can be both. This record is somewhat overcooked as far as the uptempo songs go and as an outtakes album recorded by studio experts it seems to defeat its own purpose and that would be to clear out the cupboards of gems that are gathering dust (don’t mess with them too much) and get some unlikely covers that might be brought to life with Springsteen’ s voice, energy, passion.

The title track unfortunately doesn’t seem to succeed. If you listen to The Havalina’s version, Tim Scott McConnell sounds like he might be in a desperate situation and Springsteen sounds like the studio engineer spent more time on the depth of the snare drum, then the depth of the lyric. Harry’s place suffers the same fate. This album is a mass of contradictions, it’s patchy, but it’s the classic mystery of brilliant, talented, successful artists – they can’t tell the difference between when their great and when their not.

American Skin (41 shots) protesting the outrageous deaths of Amadou Diallo and more recently Trayvon Martin. It’s sincerely Springsteen and works for me especially when compared to the original Live in New York City version. This is a song he knew he could make better and succeeded in doing so.

He makes Just Like Fire Would sound like Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp instead of an airy  pop tune. Having played with The Saints I miss Bailey’s mouthful of marbles vocal – this is like the American movie version.

Down In The Hole is that working man Bruce and Patti Scialfa singing together and it makes sense, violin and organ, it’s the folky Springsteen and he does it well. Best track on the album and features the late Danny Federici on organ and the late Clarence Clemons on sax.

Sun comes every morning but it ain’t no friend
I get dressed and I go back again
The rain keeps on falling on twisted bones and dirt
I’m buried to my heart here in this hurt
Fire keeps on burning, you’re waiting in the cold
Down in the hole

Dark and bloody autumn pierces my heart
The memory of your kiss tears me apart
The sky above is turning, the world below’s gone gray
I thought that I could turn and walk away
Fire keeps on burning, and I’m working in the cold
Down in the hole

Radio’s crackling with the headlines, wind in the phone lines
The sun upon your shoulder, empty city skylines
The day rips apart, a dark and bloody arrow pierced my heart

I got nothing but heart and sky and sunshine, the things you left behind
I wake to find my city’s gone to black
The days just keep on falling, your voice it keeps on calling
I’m gonna dig right here until I get you back
Fires keep on burning, I’m here with you in the cold
Down in the hole

Down in the hole

Heaven’s Wall seems like a B-side gratuitous gospel and bland loop and Morello’s incongruous guitar and Frankie Fell In Love sounds rather dated straight ahead rocker with a rather affected lyric. This Is Your Sword is an Irish influenced folk song blasted into oblivion by the bombastic production – as I said patchy.

But then Hunter Of Invisible Game is the second great track:

I hauled myself up out of a ditch
I built me an ark out of gopher wood and pitch
Sat down by the roadside and waited on the rain
Honey, I’m the hunter of invisible game

Well I woke last night to the heavy clicking and clack
And a scarecrow on fire along the railroad tracks
There were empty cities and burning plains
Honey, I’m the hunter of invisible game

We all come up a little short and we go down hard
These days I spend my time skipping through the dark
Through the empires of dust I chant your name
Honey, I’m the hunter of invisible game

Through the bone yard we rattled and black smoke we rolled on
Down into the valley where the beast has his throne
I sing my song and I sharpen my blade
Honey, I’m the hunter of invisible game

Strength is vanity and time is illusion
I feel you breathing, the rest is confusion
Your skin touches mine, what else to explain
Honey, I’m the hunter of invisible game

Now pray for yourself and that you may not fall
When the hour of deliverance comes on us all
When high hope and faith and courage and trust
Can rise or vanish like dust and dust
Now there’s a kingdom of love waiting to be reclaimed
Honey, I’m the hunter of the invisible game
Honey, I’m the hunter of the invisible game
Honey, I’m the hunter of the invisible game

He’s so much better these days when he’s small and poetic.

The Ghost of Tom Joad is a fascinating remake with Springsteen sharing vocals with Tom Morello and – Tom Morello’s guitar. An over the top guitar solo, Steven Van Zandt must be wondering about the direction but the Springsteen band famously have small attention to guitar solos despite having Nils Lofgren in the E-Steet band. But this is over the top – what next U2 with guitar solos?

The Wall is the third great song again featuring Danny Federici on organ.

Cigarettes and a bottle of beer
This poem that I wrote for you
This black stone and these hard tears
Are all I’ve got left now of you
I remember you in your Marine uniform laughing
Laughing that you’re shipping out probably
I read Robert McNamara says he’s sorry

You and your boots and black t-shirt
Ah Billy you looked so bad
Ya, you and your rock and roll band
Was the best thing this shit town ever had
Now the man who put you here
He feeds his family in rich dining halls
And apology and forgiveness got no place here at all
At the wall

I’m sorry I missed you last year
I couldn’t find no one to drive me
If your eyes could cut through that black stone
Tell me would they recognize me?
For the living, time must be served
Life goes on
Cigarettes and a bottle of beer
Skin on black stone

High School pictures, paper flowers
Ribbon, red as the blood
Ya, as the blood you spilled
In the Central Highlands mud
Now the limousines rush down Pennsylvania Avenue
As the rain falls
And apology and forgiveness got no place here at all

Dream Baby Dream is just not happening at all, see Suicide versions to see why.

The album is an outtakes, remakes and covers album, and it has 3 great songs Down In the Hole, Hunter Of Invisible Game and The Wall. Then there’s two worthwhile remakes: The Ghost Of Tom Joad Tom Joad and American Skin(41 Shots) and an okay cover, Just Like Fire Would but the other six songs are outtakes and the album should be judged on that level, it’s not a proper record. But Springsteen is such a massive artist that his albums don’t have to be great to be popular or get attention. The difference between a real album, a great album and this, is inconsequential – just him releasing it is enough, but not for me because I know like Paul McCartney, he can still be great.




The Havalinas – High Hopes

The Saints –  Just Like Fire Would


(This link by The Saints only works if you cut and paste).

Suicide – Dream Baby Dream live (A cross between Kraftwerk, Elvis and Willy Deville).

I don’t know if this studio version of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream is an official or fan video.