It’s a great start: Bruce strumming vigorously on acoustic and Tom Morello’s electric guitar bursting to break out, expectant percussion, and then there is the actual eruption at the first outing of the chorus. Later, horns stab and Morello is finally let lose - High Hopes indeed for the rest of the album, the title song, by Tim Scott McConnell, first recorded in 1995 and reflecting – as most will already know – that this latest release is a collection of formerly written and performed songs as with third American Skin [41 shots] written in 2000 after the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999 by New York police and then more recently performed live in honour of Trayvon Martin, the classic emotive Springsteen rendition making it a moving if angered tribute.
It took me a while to appreciate all of the nuances/stylistic decisions on the album. For example, the beautiful song Down In The Hole begins with a distantly echoed Springsteen vocal, and whilst I’m still not entirely sure about the purpose of this effect, there is an aural accentuation when it moves to his natural voice. Sixth Heaven’s Wall is highlighted by a gospel opening, but this is then left behind as the song moves into its repeated line raise your hand, the anthemic declarative taking over powerfully, Morello adding further weight with his scorching bursts.
Originally acoustic classic The Ghost of Tom Joad from Nebraska gets one of the more portentous electrifications, its narrative about hardship and struggle made even more contemporary by this noisy transformation, especially with Morello singing a couple of verses, and of course more of his guitar ignitions, especially as they whirl out the end. I have written about next song The Wall here, its quiet respectfulness made yet more poignant in contrast to the raucous ride of what precedes. The album ends on a cover of Dream Baby Dream by the band Suicide, and I had mixed feelings initially about this, its repetitions seeming simplistic and overwrought, but I increasingly feel this too is classic Springsteen: ultimately rousing in its ascending persistence and the dogged hope of the lyrics, how Bruce will always rouse us to an emotional empathy in the face of whatever tries to keep us down in this tough world. We can always dream and hope.