Though lacking the thematic unity one expects from Springsteen albums, High Hopes has much to recommend it, particularly the way that Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello has re-invigorated old material like “American Skin (41 Shots)” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.
The former, dating from 2000 but re-recorded as a tribute to Trayvon Martin, rides a fatalistic, descending throb eventually redeemed by euphoric breaks from Morello and saxist Jake Clemons; while the latter, once a Guthrie-esque solo acoustic plaint, gets the full power-chord treatment, climaxing in Morello’s extraordinary siren-guitar solo. These are the highlights of what is effectively a mop-up album of outtakes and cover versions which includes previously unreleased performances by the late Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, restored vividly to life on the wistful “Down in the Hole”.
The most compelling of these outtakes is “The Wall”, a late-Nineties elegy for a local New Jersey rocker, Walter Cichon, who never returned from Vietnam. Over wistful accordion, organ and acoustic guitar, the singer surveys the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, musing on Robert McNamara’s belated expression of regret. “Apology and forgiveness got no place here at all,” he decides.
Elsewhere, things are less impressive: “Frankie Fell in Love” is routine Springsteen street-opera, outtakes like “Harry’s Place” and the religiose “Heaven’s Wall” add little to his canon, while covers of The Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would” and Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” fail to reveal any new depths. The frisky “High Hopes” is better, whisked along on horns and guitars, but the other notable rediscovery is the poignant “Hunter of Invisible Game”, with Bruce murmuring over lilting strings about his struggle to sustain the ethical nobility which is, ultimately, the rock upon which his career rests.
Download: American Skin (41 Shots); The Ghost of Tom Joad; The Wall; Hunter of Invisible Game