First review of 2014 and a ‘new’ Springsteen album to start the year off. Is it a great start from The Boss or has he been fired?
First things first, this is not really a new album rather a collection of works from the past 10 years both original and covers that the great man has collected and worked on. Whilst the material is from the past decade, the majority of it was re-recorded whilst Springsteen and the E Street band were still touring.
However, the fact that demos existed for some of the tracks means that we are treated, maybe for the final time, to hearing both Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici recorded onto new material. Harry’s Place – originally written for the Rising features both. This album also gave Tom Morello, from Rage Against The Machine his first real chance to appear alongside Springsteen on a recorded album after working with him on the Wrecking Ball tour both as a support act or alongside Springsteen – even replacing Steve Van Zandt for the Australian leg of the tour.
The key to any Springsteen album, for me, is how would it sound if it was played live. Many of the tracks here can easily be imagined as part of another epic 3 hour plus set. American Skin (41 shots) is an old live staple and apart from a hard to find EP, makes its recorded debut and sounds every bit as good as ever. The track that may cause some debate is the reworking of the Ghost of Tom Joad, originally a quiet acoustic affair, it has now been re-worked into a powerful guitar solo led rock number with Morello sharing lead vocal duties. The original is one of my personal favorite Springsteen tracks so I am torn by this version, as a companion piece to the original it certainly works but I will return to the original Ghost when I want a fix.
On The Wall, Springsteen returns to a subject that dominated his early career, Vietnam. This time with a story about his visit to the memorial in Washington. It is a beautiful piece of work worthy of time and attention.
There are 3 cover versions on here too, High Hopes was originally written by Tim Scott McConnell, which the boss initially played for the Blood Brothers era, then there are two covers from punk bands The Saints (Just Like Fire Would) and Suicide (Dream Baby Dream), all three have the trademark Springsteen sound despite not being his work
The other unheard of stuff fits well, and will ensue Springsteen fans will remain happy to have more ‘new’ material to lap up and, who knows, another excuse to see the great man electric live show if and when he returns to these shores. Best of all there were 20 tracks recorded initially for the album which means another 8 are awaiting to be heard.
So is it a triumph? It certainly is great to listen to, Springsteen does this type of album better than anyone, look at the box set Tracks or the simply stunning The Promise for examples. The added bonus of hearing the wonderful Clemons and Federici for maybe the last time is a definate plus. Morello adds a harder edge that keeps the great mans work fresh. And lets face it, it is another hour of Bruce Springsteen. That has to be a good thing!