Wednesday 25 April 2018

Music: Boss's latest release is a blast from the past

Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

You can't dismiss someone as out-of-touch who sang – as Bruce Springsteen did on his 2012 album Wrecking Ball – about the financial systems of the world in terms of "robber barons": And even thus: "If I had a gun / I'd find the bastards and shoot them on sight."

I can't imagine many other mainstream artists, apart from Bob Dylan or Neil Young, singing lines like this, can you? Still, some people can't abide The Boss.

Depending on your perspective, Springsteen releasing a new album is either tantamount to Moses handing down the tablets of stone from the mountain relating to the meaning of life – or a boring non-event by a greying New Jersey monolith long since past his superstar sell-by date. I prefer to see him as the former.

His 18th studio album, High Hopes, is an intriguing piece of work. Again, depending on how you view the 64-year-old bejeaned prophet of white collar America, this is either an album of who-cares-frankly reheated stuff or some unearthed buried treasures.

Personally, I think you can't reject anything by the man who has inspired everyone from Arcade Fire to ... where to begin. So, therefore High Hopes is an album of refashioned outtakes – from albums such as The Rising, Magic and Working On A Dream – and eclectic cover-versions like Suicide's Dream Baby Dream and The Havalinas' High Hopes.

"Tell me someone now, what's the price
I wanna buy some time and maybe live my life
I wanna have a wife, I wanna have some kids
I wanna look in their eyes and know they'll stand a chance," Bruce sings on the inspirational title track.

Down In The Hole, with wife Patti Scialfa's distinctive harmonies, is also an inspired cut.

High Hopes has impassioned unreleased nuggets (Frankie Fell In Love) as well as sublime reworkings of old-ish songs like The Ghost Of Tom Joad from 1995 – this new version features Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello on guitar; (Tom, who filled in for Steven Van Zandt during the Bruce and the E Street band's 2013 Australian tour, is all over this album); and the controversial American Skin (41 Shots) from 2000.

The last of these Springsteen songs was inspired by the death of New York resident Amadou Diallo in February 1999, an unarmed West African immigrant who was allegedly shot 41 times when four New York City police officers thought his wallet was a gun.

When The Boss started singing the song live in the summer of 2000, the head of the State Fraternal Order of Police, Bob Lucente, dubbed Springsteen a "dirtbag" and a "floating fag".

The lyrics like "Is it a gun?/Is it a knife?/Is it a wallet?/This is your life/It ain't no secret/The secret my friend/You can get killed just for living in your American skin/41 shots/41 shots/41 shots" were merely part of his artistic expression and not in any way to be considered anti-police, argued Springsteen.

Last summer at his show in Limerick, he dedicated the song to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenage African American high school student shot dead in Sanford, Florida, on February 2012. The accused, 30-year-old Mexican George Zimmerman, was acquitted in court.

In truth, this is more of a stop-gap – or scraps from his illustrious past – than an actual new album and follow-up to Wrecking Ball by Springsteen.

Jim Testa in Jersey Beat noted that High Hopes was an "odd and sods" album of old songs and obscure covers tricked up to look and sound like a new album.

That didn't stop Tris McCall in The Star-Ledger rhapsodising this: "Once again, Springsteen is the minister in the chapel, offering guidance, sympathy and, occasionally, a raised fist of solidarity with the dispossessed."

Irish Independent

Entertainment Newsletter

Going out? Staying in? From great gigs to film reviews and listings, entertainment has you covered.

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment