Bruce Springsteen’s highly anticipated eighteenth studio album has shot straight to number 1 in both the US and the UK charts, making it his eleventh number 1 album and proving that, even after 45 years, he’s still got it.
This feels like an album dedicated to The Boss’s longest standing fans. It includes popular covers from his tours and updated versions of his old tracks, including the haunting ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’. This version of Springsteen’s 1995 song is more fleshed out than the original, and Tom Morello’s (Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist) influence is most obviously heard on this track. ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ has gone from being an almost feeble, slightly forgettable song to being one of the most powerful tracks on the album. Rather than the sadness of the original, this song has all the anger of ‘Wrecking Ball’.
Even though this album is a patchwork of updated tracks and cover versions, Springsteen still brings something new, as he does with every album. Thanks to Morello, this album has a completely new sound which is almost unrecognisable. This is very different from the E Street Band of ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ and ‘Born To Run’. Gone are the jazzy saxophone solos we heard in ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’. The E Street Band’s sound has grown up, and High Hopes has a gritty sound not heard since Devils & Dust.
However, the lyrics still contain all of Springsteen’s old themes; particularly ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’, which includes the same issues of broken dreams seen in ‘The Promise’ and ‘Downbound Train’. Lyrics dealing with this are just as heartbreaking and meaningful as Springsteen’s lyrics have always been, and with lines like “There were empty cities and burning plains/I am the hunter of invisible game”, The Boss proves he has not forgotten his roots. Even with these kinds of lyrics, Springsteen still somehow manages to retain the optimism of songs like ‘Thunder Road’, especially in the titular track, ‘High Hopes’. Despite all of the themes of disappointment and fruitless dreams, he still insists that things will get better.
High Hopes shows how much Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have changed after 45 years and the death of Clarence Clemons. It is impressive that The Boss manages to come up with fresh ideas after all this time and all those albums. The introduction of Morello has a dramatic effect, and sometimes it is difficult not to miss the harmonicas and saxophones of old Springsteen songs in the ilk of ‘Thunder Road’ and ‘This Hard Land’. However, Springsteen has not forgotten the fans who have been with him since Asbury Park. The inclusion of old tracks and cover versions is a nod to those who have seen him perform, and the actual content of the songs is no different from any of his old tracks. The E Street Band has updated its sound, but all of the themes familiar to his fans are still there.