Rage (not) Against the Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen performing at the Roskilde Festival 2012.

Bruce Springsteen performing at the Roskilde Festival 2012.

A new album for the new year

Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald – Contributor

What better way to ring in 2014 then with a new Bruce Springsteen album? Thirty years after the release of Born in the USA and following hot on the heels of his 2012 album Wrecking Ball, the 64-year-old Boss is back with his new album, High Hopes, which is his first album of covers, outtakes, and old songs given new twists — and twangs!

That’s right, Tom Morello of Audioslave, Nightwatchman, and Rage Against the Machine plays guitar on seven out of 12 tracks on this album, bringing his characteristic playing that made his name in Rage. Morello and Springsteen are no strangers to each other. The former covered the latter’s song “The Ghost of Tom Joad” in the 1999 Rage album Renegades and in early 2013, Morello filled in for the E-Street Band’s Steve Van Zandt while touring in Australia.

As aforementioned, the songs on High Hopes include covers, titles never released, and creative spins on songs already released. The song opens with the title track, “High Hopes,” a song originally recorded for Springsteen’s 1996 EP Blood Brothers and a cover of a song by Tim Scott McConnell. When the light drumming kicks in with Morello’s guitar magic, the listener knows they’re in for a treat.

This is one of the highlights of the album, Springsteen’s style meshing with Morello’s. This is exemplified well in the song “Harry’s Place,” a song that never quite made it into the 2002 album The Rising. Other Springsteen-Morello highlights on the album include “Heaven’s Wall” and, of course, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” where Morello contributes his singing voice.

Yet, the best Springsteen-Morello collaboration track on the album is the moving “American Skin (41 Shots).” In an era where racism is still hugely problematic in North America, Springsteen tells the story of being non-white in the United States and how simple actions, such as reaching into a pocket to get a wallet, can get one killed.

Originally written in response to the police shooting of a young African-American man named Amadou Diallo in 1999, Springsteen dedicated the song to Trayvon Martin at summer concerts in 2013. This is the highpoint of the album and shows the sheer passion of Springsteen and Morello, not just to music, but issues of social justice.

Beyond collaborating with Morello, Springsteen also does a couple of cover songs on this album. “High Hopes” is one of them, as is “Just Like Fire Would” (originally by Chris Bailey) and “Dream Baby Dream” (originally by Martin Rev. Alan Vega). “Frankie Fell in Love,” an E-Street and Springsteen tune, stands out as one of the better soundtracks. What makes the album stand out is the Morello songs, and the other songs don’t quite get to that level. However, let’s keep this in perspective. What’s not quite level for the Boss is still yards ahead of most music these days.

The tunes with Tom Morello take this album off the fence between purchasing and not purchasing. Buy it, it’s well worth the listen.

Image: Bill Ebbesen

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