By Christina Croucher
Released January 17th, 2014 - Sony Music
High Hopes is the 18th studio album of the American rock legendBruce Springsteen. Made up of twelve songs brilliantly executed for the first time in the studio; songs that Springsteen has already performed live, covered, or old originals that have never till now, been recorded.
I felt a lot of substance in the album, in Bruce's vocals and in the brilliant story telling nature of his songs embedded with a deep sense of history, experience and empathy for people. Imagery was constant throughout the album and the depth of instrumentals kept for a captivating listening experience from start to finish. The opening track High Hopes layers the classic electric guitar sounds with a fresh rhythm of carnival big band sounds. It's a really current sound to start the album off proving that this 64yr old recording artist is still ahead of the times.
He brings it down to a more sinister sound in Harrys Place which is the mysterious story of the dark drug lord (by the sounds of it) Harry; "Your blood and money spit shines Harrys crown." "These are the rules, this is the world. When you bring it on down to Harrys Place." In Harrys place he introduces the start of some great guitar solos throughout the album. Next is the powerful and in somewhat controversial song (has been with the US police) American Skin (41shots). What I hear is an honest take Bruce wrote on a true story about the unarmed immigrant of West Africa Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times by 4 New York cops; who tragically had mistaken his wallet for a gun. The song reaps with empathy and gives you an overall sense of his sadness of not only this one tragedy but of the constant gun crimes in America. The strong lines of the chorus "Is it a gun, is it a knife, is it a wallet, this is your life. It ain't no secret my friend. You can get killed just for living in your American skin."
I found some unexpected sounds in the album like the haunting intro of Down In The Hole. This one is a beautiful song recorded beautifully with a soft but moving execution vocally from Bruce with stunning female harmonies carrying it through. It is an instrumental gem as well uniquely filled with bells, strings and wooden instruments. There are actually a lot of contrasts in style within the album; the gospel choir heavyHeavens Wall, to the very country sounding Frankie Fell In Love. He sounds his age in This Is Your Sword; this is positive and fits in with the wise and uplifting lyrics backed with enriching bagpipes.
Bruce Springsteen is such a rock star while telling very humble and often relatable lyrics. He makes the ordinary sound cool and one of my favourite examples of this in High Hopes is an oldie of Springsteen, The Ghost Of Tom Joad in which the imagery is good enough to escape with. It's one I can imagine will be a highlight when Springsteen and the E Street Band play in NZ this year.
I know there is some disappointment in the lack of new content in this album but recording holds a massive part in the current world of music and isn't it important that these songs stay part of Springsteen's music history after he's gone? These songs, special to Springsteen, have been preserved through the recording of High Hopes. Better for Springsteen to do this himself now; than to wait for someone else to immortalise him and these songs, when he is no longer around to do it. This way at least he's done it his way; and I think he's done it very well.