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Tuesday 14 January 2014

Bruce Springsteen : High Hopes review

You’ve just stepped off the bus at the end of a marathon world tour, the adrenaline still coursing through your body. Suddenly, you’re at a bit of a loss, time on your hands.

Who you gonna call?

Tom Morello, that’s who.

And the tricksy Rage Against The Machine axeman, now seemingly surgically attached to the E Street Band, is round in a flash. “So whaddya want, Boss?”

For his 18th studio album, Springsteen has plundered the archives once more. It’s a wander down memory lane that worked for Tracks and The Promise, and works again, if with mixed results.

Working with Morello, he’s revisited recent live set staples American Skin (41 Shots) and a turbocharged Ghost Of Tom Joad, the Rage guitarist’s slippery licks turning the sombre solo turn into stadium rock.

The rest of the songs are out-takes, the so close yet so far songs that didn’t make the final cut for his last six albums, dating back to 2002’s The Rising, and have now been given a makeover.

Album opener High Hopes – a Havalinas cover – boasts all the Boss’s recent hallmarks, a singalong holler that combines Celtic tradition with New Orleans swagger, rock and roll with a hint of RATM steel.

The finalĂ© is another cover, of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream, which doesn’t fare as well, syrupy strings and drum loops replacing the post-punk duo’s gutter drone. Some things are better left alone.

In the crime noir setting of Harry’s Place Morello fires machine gun guitar across throaty sax originally laid down by the late Big Man, Clarence Clemons. And, yes, that’s Danny Federici, who died in 2008, playing organ on moving Vietnam memorial The Wall.

The rest are by the E-Street numbers, although Springsteen’s filler sets faster than most band’s polished product.

Frankie Fell In Love proves an old-fashioned frat-rock riot; Heavens Wall goes gospel; Down In The Hole is one of those reflections on despair that The Boss does so well; Just Like Fire Would as forgettable as the pun intended.

This Is Your Sword, a song originally due to appear on a ‘lost’ gospel album since dropped, should have remained undiscovered. Hunter Of Invisible Game, an acoustic waltz, mines a similar vein but is at least Dylan dusty.

But, let’s face it, you’ll buy the album for The Ghost Of Tom Joad, especially if you saw it live on the Wrecking Ball tour.

And, just for the record, Nils Lofgren’s onstage tour de force beat Morrello’s tricks hands down.

* A limited edition version of High Hopes adds a live concert DVD of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band running through the Born In The USA album live at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park last year.