A collection of outtakes, cover versions and reworkings, Bruce Springsteen’s 18th album, High Hopes, inevitably lacks the thematic arc of his more conventional studio efforts. But the follow-up to 2012’s Wrecking Ball still proves that The Boss remains one of rock’s great storytellers, whether he’s lamenting about the loss of the American Dream, raging about the injustice of police brutality or revelling in the joy of a small-town engagement. While the inspired recruitment of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello ensures that far from the cobbled-together lazy exercise some fans might have feared, High Hopes is in fact one of Springsteen’s most vibrant records in years. Here’s a look at five of its most powerful lyrics.
The Trayvon Martin case ensures that this slow-building classic Springsteen protest song, originally written in 2000 as a response to the NYPD’s shooting of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, sadly remains as relevant today. Indeed, the number of shots fired is the only notable sign of its 14-year-history as The Boss reflects on the needless loss of life while narrating the cautionary message of a mother desperate to protect her innocent son from the same fate: [LISTEN]
Something of a family affair, this rhythmic folk number not only features Springsteen’s wife Patti Scialfa on backing vocals but also his three children, Evan, Jessica and Samuel. However, “Down In The Hole” is far from a celebratory sing-along – it’s a heartbreaking tale of a man desperately searching for a loved one in the wreckage of a disaster channelling the same post-9/11 grief and despair that often made The Rising such a harrowing listen:
Reportedly intended for a whole album’s worth of gospel songs, this ‘going through the motions’ Celtic-tinged rocker is the only moment on High Hopes which verges on the barrel-scraping. But while the production falls flat, its optimistic message is thankfully more engaging as Springsteen’s father figure celebrates the redemptive powers of The Big L with just the right amount of sincerity, providing a welcome relief from the doom and gloom elsewhere in the process:
Transforming the title track from one of his most minimalistic records into a full-on ferocious anthem reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine’s cover, Springsteen trades both verses and guitar solos with Morello while revelling in his status as the voice of the invisible, the destitute and the disenfranchised on a Steinbeck-influenced and Bush-baiting tale of social injustice which still manages to pack a hefty emotional punch nearly two decades on: [LISTEN]
Inspired by a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the album’s most quietly reflective moment serves as a tribute to Walter Cichon, a local rock hero from Springsteen’s New Jersey youth who was sent to war but tragically never returned home. Accompanied by a mournful trumpet solo, The Boss still sounds in awe of his boyhood idol but it’s the scathing attack on the government officials, and former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in particular, that leaves the biggest impression: [LISTEN]