Bruce Springsteen- High Hopes

8.1 / 10

Spare Parts:

Springsteen mines his past with a coal to diamond workingman’s craft

For his 18th studio album of High Hopes, Bruce Springsteen takes his most unorthodox path of constructing a record yet. A collection of castaways, covers, and reconstructions providing a fusion that Springsteen thought had to see the light of day. Fueling Springsteen’s drive even further was Rage Against The Machine guitarist and E Street understudy Tom Morello. A genuine guitar hero, Morello’s amplified alien landscapes were a lightning rod of inspiration according to Bruce himself, “Tom and his guitar became my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level.”

After his fine work on Wrecking Ball producer Ron Aniello returns to the helm tasked with melding Springsteen’s perennially ambitious cinematic vision to Morello’s abstract guitar wizardry. The results are startlingly synergetic as Morello’s tones and squalls sound revitalizing interwoven throughout the various rhapsodies. Although the personnel is too wide ranging to be considered a true E Street Band record, their muscular spirit is felt throughout, exemplified on the opening title track. A cover of Tim Scott McConnell’s originally recorded by Springsteen on the 1996 Blood Brothers EP that was revisited on the last leg of the Wrecking Ball tour and is bolstered with flavorful horns and an incessant salsa rhythm. Bruce always being meticulous with track arrangements wanted to start things optimistically, with its exotic spontaneous nature, “High Hopes” certainly does that.

“Harry’s Place” is one of record’s finest moments and although it’s well polished sounding like a Tunnel of Love era cut it’s one of Springsteen’s grittiest character studies in years. The big city noir surrounding the tyrannical mobster known as Harry has a seedy vibe with Bruce informing you, “You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls.” Advice that sounds like it could make the difference between life and death. Another day in the life of these wise guys: The smoke is cleared and blood is spilled. The blurbs of saxophone and guitar sound like police sirens off in the distance but by the time they arrive on the scene… it’s too late. This is nighttime cruising music that Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski could’ve gotten onboard with.

“American Skin (41 Shots)” has been around as a live performance since the E Street Band’s reunion shows from 1999-2000 and originally written after New York City Cops shot and killed an unarmed Amadou Diallo in 1999. An appropriate time for this track to resurface and receive proper studio treatment in the wake of the Trayvon Martin incident as well as the endless litany of mass public shootings, it’s more relevant than ever. Distorted vocals haunt the background and Morello shines for the first time on “American Skin” with his soaring guitar playing, like a supernatural compass for wayward souls.

“Just Like Fire Would” is another cover, a tale of jubilant longing and devotion this time from Australian punk band The Saints before cooling into the tremendous outtake “Down in the Hole” from The Rising sessions. With the same chest-bursting sincerity of “I’m On Fire,” it’s a retelling of events transpiring in the aftermath of 9/11 as Springsteen laments, “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.”

“Heaven’s Wall” is another ethereal vantage point that transitions to the phenomenal “Frankie Fell in Love.” Springsteen feels gob-smacked by the unbridled intoxication of love, a truly rousing song that would feel right at home with some of the other exhilarating rockers on The River. “This is Your Sword” dabbles in rollicking Celtic music that Springsteen has been involved with more frequently followed by the lilting strings waltz of “Hunter Of Invisible Game.” Its lush beauty veiling the true heartbreak as Springsteen sings, “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. I am the hunter of invisible game.”

The most controversial move on High Hopes is the radically transformed version of an undisputed classic, “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Although this adaptation is no new revelation to the majority of the Springsteen faithful as this version with the full E Street Band has been played live multiple times, even featuring Morello on several occasions over the past few years. With Springsteen and Morello trading verses, the stark baron wasteland of the original is replaced by a fully-armored insurgent march of electricity. Morello’s transcendental wailing and screeching of guitar is a prodigious jolt, an atomic shockwave and guerilla warfare proclamation. Completely reimagined, “Tom Joad” morphs from bleak requiem to defiant rally cry.

“The Wall” refers to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. paying tribute to the lives lost in a conflict that defined a generation. A eulogy that Springsteen culled from his deepest fathoms for friends he lost in Vietnam as he grieves, “This black stone and these hard tears are all I got left of you now.” There’s also the visceral survivor’s guilt, were it not for a failed Physical decades ago, Springsteen (Who was legitimately drafted for the war) may have been one of the names on that wall. If you believe in divine intervention, Springsteen just might be living proof of such a thing.

The closer “Dream Baby Dream” is one of the most obscure finales in Springsteen’s catalog. A cover of electro-punk duo Suicide from their 1980 LP is another dramatically altered rendition. The pulsating original has been converted to a swaying Elysian psalm that could be seen as a cumulative benediction, purposefully placed in the exact spot it should be.

2012’s Wrecking Ball was engineered as a modern day folk album so it should come as no surprise that Bruce treated High Hopes with an archivist’s approach. Not only of his own music, but cherished obscurities by other artists he also held in high regard. The lack of a linear narrative hinders the album at times, but only slightly. In fact some may even feel this record sounds more like a unified effort than the Ellis Island melting pot of Wrecking Ball. At its core High Hopes is still rich with the prevailing themes that are abundant in Springsteen’s oeuvre: Faith, love, loss, redemption, and triumph amongst others. As for Bruce’s prolific output in the latter days of his career, it doesn’t appear he is planning on retirement anytime soon. With plenty of material left to excavate and revive along with a continuous outpouring of new ideas, Springsteen made this keen observation, “It’s like that old story. The light from the oncoming train focuses the mind.”

 Bruce and Morello

(Blood Brothers: Tom and Bruce- The Boss uses Morello’s guitar to channel his muse)



It’s been two weeks now since I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band play at historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. I still cannot grasp the magnitude of this show. I didn’t think Bruce would ever be able to top his 3+ hour show from St. Paul, MN from May of 2009 as my favorite live show I’ve ever been to. Then he pulled out all of the stops on September 7th, 2012. Bruce and company hit Wrigley with searing falling meteor intensity and the force of a 10 megaton A-bomb. It was a relentless 3 and 1/2 hour marathon show. If The Boss with the E Street Band wasn’t enough they had a couple (cough) locals come out. Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder. Tom Morello and Eddie fuckin’ Vedder! My head was bout to explode! The most eclectic set I’ve seen from Springsteen that’s for sure. The memorable moments seemed endless beginning with “Prove It All Night” with the 1978 extended piano/guitar intro. Other rarities I loved included “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, and one of my all-time favorites “Spirit in the Night”. Morello played blistering maddening guitar on seven songs including his crowning moment the cosmic mind-bending solos from “The Ghost Of Tom Joad”. Bruce and Eddie performed a duet of “Atlantic City”. It’s a real treat to listen to Eddie’s voice live. He has a voice that could make you melt. The encore was brilliant loaded heavily with cuts from Born To Run. “Thunder Road”, “Born To Run” and a beautiful moving tribute to Clarence Clemons on “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”. The best moment however, was the one song I’ve wanted to see the most live, and I finally got it. Jungleland. JUNGLELAND. I could, and perhaps I should just leave it at that, it’s really tough to put into words what this song means to me. It’s the consummate Springsteen song, maybe my favorite Springsteen song. It’s everything that’s good about Rock & Roll, about music. It’s the greatest epic album closer of any album ever made in my opinion. It’s spiritual, and you feel like you’re achieving transcendence. As for that legendary Clarence Clemons sax solo? His nephew Jake Clemons nailed it just as he did with every other sax solo that night. I was impressed. Very few songs have moved me to tears, but they were certainly welling up in my eyes. Not out of misery or sadness, but pure ebullience, ecstasy. I could die a happy man after hearing that. Bruce and friends closed out the set with a rapturous cover of “Twist And Shout” just a shade under midnight. My throat was shot, I was sweating despite it being a windy cool night, and physical sore. In a nutshell I was exhausted and there was a man onstage nearly 63 years old besting me! Unbelievable! Humans shouldn’t have that type of endurance, let alone at 63! Bruce’s fans demand a great deal from him live night after night after night. And he always delivers. Conversely Bruce expects that same passion back from the audience. We’re doing everything we can Boss! Thanks Boss… again. Here’s the write-up courtesy of

September 7 / Wrigley Field / Chicago, IL

Notes: During tonight’s “roll call,” Bruce had a special introduction to make: “Born in Chicago in 1951, Mr. Nils Lofgren!” But Nils wasn’t the only native son in the house tonight — this first of two shows at Wrigley Field felt almost like Old Home Night, with major guest spots from Tom Morello (who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Libertyville) and Eddie Vedder (born and raised in Evanston). Both Springsteen pals are lifelong Cubs fans, clearly thrilled to be on stage in the Friendly Confines, and they each pitched in on several songs. As Bruce said, it was “a cavalcade — a cavalcade of stars!”

Morello threw down perfectly wrought solos for his Wrecking Ball staples “Death to My Hometown” and “Jack of All Trades.” He was back later for his trademark electric “The Ghost of Tom Joad” duet, trading vocals and guitar leads with Springsteen (truly shredding — and scratching — by the end), and he remained on stage as that energy kept flowing for an ecstatic “Badlands” and the set-closing “Land of Hope and Dreams.” Mid-set, Vedder strapped on a guitar for “Atlantic City,” sharing lead vocals on a stellar performance. Eddie and Tom both came back in the encores.

Spread throughout the set, a trove of mid-’80s rarities. The band broke out “My Love Will Not Let You Down” in the second slot — a real highlight, with that classic chiming guitar trio of Nils, Bruce, and Steve downstage, as well as a kick-ass drum breakdown from Max. There was also a muscular “Trapped,” one of those relative obscurities that still galvanizes a stadium crowd; “I’m Goin’ Down” (which led right into the more frequently spotted “Darlington County”); and a true rarity, played live by the E Street Band only twice before, “None But the Brave.” “I think this is a tour debut, I could be wrong,” Bruce said, and he was right. “This is for all the hardcore fans out there. This was written for Born in the U.S.A. Didn’t make it on there.” Sounding surprisingly well-rehearsed (it was soundchecked in Philadelphia, at least), “None But the Brave” was absolutely majestic, Eddie Manion bringing it home at the end, blowing for all he’s worth.

The concert began with the ’78-style intro to “Prove It All Night.” Coveted as it is by those aforementioned hardcore fans, and for good reason, it made a slightly strange opener — an extended instrumental to start the show — and there wasn’t clear recognition among the crowd until the song’s main piano riff kicked in. But plenty of power there regardless, big cheers for Jake, and Nils twirling away on a fierce solo at the end. Followed by “My Love,” it was a killer one-two punch.

The next two songs setlisted were “Adam Raised a Cain” and “Lost in the Flood,” and you can gather how Bruce’s mood must have changed between writing the setlist and playing the show, as he replaced them with audibles of “Out in the Street” and “Hungry Heart.” For the latter he ventured out into the crowd, saluting fans on the “Wrigley Rooftops” just outside the ballpark, even adding a nod to the Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” as the song went along. But despite that shift to stadium-friendly crowd-pleasers, which gave the show some ups and downs, there was really something for everybody tonight. Radio hits, deep cuts, special guests, strong Wrecking Ball performances (“Shackled and Drawn” was a particular showstopper, Cindy Mizelle just tearing it up), and, in the encore, a glittery sign request from a “14-year-old lady” granted for “Jungleland.” It’s the first “Jungleland” I’ve seen with Jake, and my emotions were all over the place — though what got me in my gut was not Jake’s solo (which was pretty damn faultless), but Bruce’s wordless vocals at the end, those howls into the night sky. No wonder he keeps talking about ghosts.

And then Tom Morello and Eddie Vedder were back on stage for the last two songs, Tom in his Cubs cap, both beaming as bright as Wrigley’s night baseball lights, sharing Steve’s mic on “Twist and Shout” as they sent us home dancing. What more do you want? A cool, breezy night, perfectly dry despite the predicted thunderstorms? Yeah, we got that too.
– Christopher Phillips reporting – photographs by C.P. (1,3) and Lois Bernstein (2, 4-8)

Prove It All Night (’78 intro)
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Out in the Street
Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown (with Tom Morello)
My City of Ruins
Spirit in the Night
Jack of All Trades (with Tom Morello)
Atlantic City (with Eddie Vedder)
Lonesome Day
I’m Goin’ Down
Darlington County
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
None But the Brave
The Ghost of Tom Joad (with Tom Morello)
Badlands (with Tom Morello)
Land of Hope and Dreams (with Tom Morello)
* * *
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (with Morello and Vedder)
Twist and Shout (with Morello and Vedder)