Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes

7 01 2014

high-hopesBruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album is a mixture of covers, new songs and re-workings of older material, but don’t come to this album thinking it’s a thrown together collection.

High Hopes is an album that stands up as a complete, cohesive release and is one of the finest Springsteen albums of recent years.

Album opener High Hopes builds from a 1950s referencing (and I Want Candy like) scratchy rockabilly guitar riff, and is a high energy opener that sets the scene for the majority of the album.

Harry’s Place is a track originally recorded during The Rising sessions. The vocal effects and the distorted sax remind me a little (ok, a LOT) of the Sopranos theme by Alabama 3 (probably no coincidence as the track references seedy characters meeting up in Harry’s Place). 

“You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls, these are the rules, this is the world”

Some wonderful guitar work at the end of the song (I’ve not seen the liner notes yet, but I presume from Tom Morello).

American Skin (41 Shots) appears for the first time in studio form. Heavily processed synths and percussion underpin one of the two seven minute plus tracks on the album. A moving song, thats grown over the many years it has been performed live (the song was written in 2000). A definite album highlight, and one of the best Springsteen songs of any era.

“Is it a gun, is it a knife – Is it a wallet, this is your life”

Just Like Fire Would is a song written by Chris Bailey of Australian new wave band The Saints – of (I’m) Stranded fame. I love how 70s punk bands used paragraphs. (Get a) Grip (on Yourself) etc. But I digress!

Springsteen’s vocal power has lost none of it’s bite, and the shared vocals with Steve Van Zandt recall the Darkness on the Edge of Town / The River era. There are hints of The Beatles in the horn arrangement midway through the song and a Byrds like guitar sound features throughout.

Down In The Hole opens with industrial sounding percussion and mournful banjo that brings to mind a long lost 19th Century America. The drums reference I’m on Fire, one of my favourite Springsteen songs. Down In The Hole is simply a beautiful, emotive piece, with multiple layers and a wonderful, evolving production.

I love the production twist early on in the song, it’s as if the song moves from the past to the present. This is shaping up to be my favourite song on the album.

Taken from website

Heaven’s Wall fully utilises the power of the current, expanded touring E Street Band. I look forward to hearing this song live (come back to the UK soon please Bruce).

The production really is top drawer on this album – a previously hidden in the mix bassline sneaks to the fore 3/4 of the way through this song, along with some powerful guitar and percussion workouts.

Frankie Fell In Love is a piece of Americana that zips by in just over two minutes 46 seconds. Just as it hits home, it’s gone and you are listening to the Gaelic flavoured This Is Your Sword.

Hunter Of Invisible Game is a rare down-tempo track on High Hopes. An addictive riff, alternating between strings and guitar, underpins this slow paced but nonetheless uplifting track. Percussion and a rustic sounding acoustic guitar give way to a rich arrangement as the song progresses.

“Your skin touches mine, what else to explain, I am the hunter of invisible game.”

The Ghost of Tom Joad will be familiar to long-term Springsteen fans, but this 2013 take sends the song somewhere else. Gone is the sparse instrumentation of the 1995 original, and the full band and co-vocalist Tom Morello make this into a companion piece to Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane.

The Wall is a tribute to the memories of those who never returned from Vietnam. A lightness of touch in the performance, with respectful, restrained playing, makes this one of the most moving songs in Springsteen’s canon.

“On the ground, dog-tags and wreaths of flowers
With the ribbons red as the blood”

I dare you to not feel choked up on your first listen to The Wall, especially when the trumpet fades out during the songs final refrain. That Springsteen is releasing songs of this quality 18 albums down the line is remarkable.

The Suicide song Dream Baby Dream is a fitting album closer. Looped percussion and dark textures underpin the mantra like track that lifts you after the raw emotion of the preceding song.

“Come on, we’ve gotta keep the fire burning.”

High Hopes does not trade on cheap nostalgia,but proves, just like David Bowie did last year, that age is not a barrier to making truly great music. This is an album that would have been rightly lauded if it had been released by The Boss in the late 1970s.

I’m only seven days into 2014 and I’ve already heard a contender for album of the year.

High Hopes
Harry’s Place
American Skin (41 Shots)
Just Like Fire Would
Down In The Hole
Heaven’s Wall
Frankie Fell In Love
This Is Your Sword
Hunter Of Invisible Game
The Ghost of Tom Joad
The Wall
Dream Baby Dream

Buy Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes on Amazon UK

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Wembley Stadium June 15th 2013

16 06 2013

This was my first Springsteen gig since the Tunnel of Love Express tour show at Wembley Stadium in June 1988. The 2013 show started around 20 minutes later than advertised, with Land Of Hope And Dreams, from the 2012 Wrecking Ball album. A natural opener, with it’s anthemic chorus, the sound in the stadium was quite muddy for the first few numbers, but soon settled down.

Jackson Cage was sadly one of only two tracks from The River featured in the show, and was followed by Radio Nowhere from the recent Magic album.

From early on in the set, Bruce was constantly running to the front of the stage, and picking set-list request banners from the enthusiastic crowd, and showing the banners to band members so they knew what to play next. The E Street band members never get the chance to phone in their gigs!

Wembley Stadium June 15 2013

Save my Love, one of the key tracks from The Promise (the Darkness on the Edge of Town companion album) was up next, and a hint to what was to follow shortly in the mammoth set. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) was played quite early on in the set, and is always a highlight of Bruce gigs. I am sure Rosalita is responsible for turning on a lot of UK fans to Springsteen’s music, via the clip shown on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1979.

Lost In The Flood echoed around the full to capacity stadium, a powerful song from Springsteen’s debut album, and the first time the song has been performed live in the UK since 1975.

The moving Wrecking Ball and Death To My Hometown from the latest album picked up the tempo, before Bruce dropped the biggest Boss-bomb of the evening. Asking the crowd if they wanted to stick with more requests, or let him play the whole of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. This is my favourite Springsteen album, and luckily the crowd roared their approval at the second option.

The next 40 minutes or so was the highlight of the show for me, transporting me back in time to when I was a teenager listening to this classic album on cassette. Badlands got the entire stadium raising their hands in time to the music.

Something in the Night was stunning live, with the vocals as powerful as they were back in the days when FM was the preferred frequency of music lovers. The short, frantic Candy’s Room is one of my favourite songs of all time, and I was so glad I was here to finally here this song live and in the flesh.

Prove it all Night has stood the test of time, and sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1978. Featuring highly visual guitar theatrics from Nils Lofgren, the album playback (in order) ended with the title track from Darkness on the Edge of Town. This was apparently the first time that Springsteen has played a whole album in this way in the UK, and while it may have slowed down the set for the more casual fans, it was a treat for long-term Springsteen followers.

Brice, Steve and Roy Wembley Stadium June 15 2013

The whole stadium were back on their feet for the remainder of the gig. Wrecking Ball’Shackled And Drawn got the crowd dancing and signing along.  I’m sure the beer being thrown down people’s necks also helped. After commenting on the end of the world rain witnessed in London in the early afternoon, it was maybe tempting fate to play Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, but thankfully The Boss kept the rain away.

The title track from 2002’s The Rising is a powerful live song, and fitted well in the running order before set closer Light of Day (a song recorded by Joan Jett in 1987).

Bruce explained that “30 seconds from now, everybody in this place is gonna be dancing” and Pay Me My Money Down followed by Born to Run certainly got the remaining bums off the seats.

A rarely mentioned track from Born in the USA, Bobby Jean, sounded much better live than it’s recorded version (I hope remastered versions of Springsteen’s older albums, including Born in the USA, is on the menu at some point soon).

Dancing in the Dark signalled the now customary invitation to dance with The Boss. On this occasion, Bruce took an audience members Mum up on stage to dance with him (gratefully accepting a dollar bill stuck to the banner requesting the dance as payment) and a younger girl to bash away at a thankfully not plugged in guitar.

Born to Run‘s horn driven Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, along with a Rocky referencing dance from Springsteen, included a poignant tribute to two departed E Street Band members,  saxophonist Clarence Clemons (the Big Man) and organ / accordion player Danny Federici.  The final song with the band was the cover of Twist And Shout that was famously cut short at Hyde Park. The E Street Band left the stage as Springsteen performed a curfew ignoring solo version of Thunder Road.

The 2013 Springsteen show was much more enjoyable than the two Wembley gigs I saw in the 80’s on the Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love tours. The show is so well paced, with something for diehard fans as well as the more casual audience. I know it’s a much repeated statement, but Bruce and the E Street Band have got to be the hardest working band in recent history, with setlists torn up mid-set and no two shows being the same.

If you get the chance to catch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on this tour, you really should take that chance while they are still performing. Nothing lasts forever.

Wrecking Ball 2013 tour poster

Setlist in full:

Land Of Hope And Dreams
Jackson Cage
Radio Nowhere
Save My Love
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
This Hard Land
Lost In The Flood
Wrecking Ball
Death To My Hometown
Hungry Heart
Adam Raised A Cain
Something In The Night
Candy’s Room
Racing In The Street
The Promised Land
Streets Of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
The Rising
Light Of Day


Pay Me My Money Down
Born To Run
Bobby Jean
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Twist And Shout
Thunder Road (solo acoustic)

Buy the Wrecking ball deluxe edition on Amazon UK

Buy the excellent The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town Documentary [DVD]

Buy The Promise – The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3 Cd+3 Dvd boxset)

Buy London Calling: Live in Hyde Park [Blu-ray]

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