40 years on and at 64 years of age, Bruce elevates this re-ordering of odds and sods onto a higher level altogether.
Welcome to the Bruce and Tom show. Rage Against The Machine guitar firebrand Tom Morello is not just Springsteen’s musical foil on this enjoyable rag bag collection of b-sides, covers and previously un-recorded tracks; he also became his muse, providing the impetuous for Bruce to finally put these ghosts and lingering half-finished songs from his vast back catalogue to rest.
Morello features on seven of the 12 tracks here and High Hopes also marks a series of firsts for Springsteen. This is the first album he’s recorded on the road and the first Bruce album beginning and ending with cover versions.
As bookends go, they reveal a lot about the spirit of this 18th album. The first is a sturdy reworking of High Hopes, a song by LA act The Havelinas originally covered by Bruce in 1996 for his Blood Brothers EP. Here it becomes a brass- drenched, righteous rumble full of lashings of Morello’s wah-wah guitar. The closing song is a cover of Dream Baby Dream by New York proto-punks Suicide, a seemingly unlikely choice that keeps its original form but also turns into a burnished torch song in Bruce’s hands.
What lies between is a collection split between Springsteen heart-on-blue-shirted sleeve redemption songs and some knocked-out knockabouts, all bristling with the bedrock musicianship of E Streeters but truly enlivened by Morello’s spitting, aerobatic guitar moves.
There’s even a blast of Celticism on This is Your Sword as Cillian Vallely's uileann pipes and high and low whistle build to a typically rousing chorus about self-belief in the face of adversity. There’s fun to be had with Frankie Fell in Love and the spare and haunting Down in The Hole features Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici's last ever recordings.
The lean Harry’s Place, originally recorded for 2003's post-911 album The Rising, has all the backroom menace of The Sopranos or a poker game in Joe Pesci’s basement. A lively cover of The Saints' Just Like Fire Would is also very good and very welcome indeed but perhaps Hunter of Invisible Game is late period Springsteen at his best. It overtures with an Elmer Bernstein-style string thing and is the most plangent and gorgeous song here. Raw emotion leaks out on The Wall, a moving lament for fallen comrades on the Jersey music scene who died needlessly in the Vietnam War.
However, the seven-and-half-minute re-recorded version of the celebrated Ghost of Tom Joad towers above even that. It’s owned by Morello as he trades verses with Springsteen and fires off some extraordinary note-bending pyrotechnics which sound like machine gun rattle one second, wired turntablism, and, then, police sirens the next. It's spine-tingling proof of the genuine connection between the pair.
40 years on and at 64 years of age, Bruce elevates even this re-ordering of odds and sods onto a higher level altogether. This kind of heroism and undaunted self-belief would be clichéd if it wasn’t so damn passionate. It’s further testament that he remains hungry after all these years. Clearly, Springsteen is still guided by hidden forces.