Release Date: Jan 14, 2014
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Album Rock, Heartland Rock
Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album is a portrait of the artist at the top of his 21st-century game: rock-soul dynamite and finely drawn pathos bound by familiar, urgent themes (national crisis, private struggle, the daily striving for more perfect union) and the certain-victor's force in Springsteen's singing. High Hopes is also a deep look back over Springsteen's past decade, his best onstage and record since the first, with a keen eye turned forward. The cumulative effect of this mass of old, borrowed, blue and renewed – covers, recent outtakes and redefining takes on two classics – is retrospect with a cutting edge, running like one of the singer's epic look-ma-no-set-list gigs: full of surprises, all with a reason for being there.
A new album with several strands that will be comfortingly familiar to seasoned Boss fans, High Hopes was largely assembled during breaks in the hectic Springsteen touring schedule that began shortly after the arrival of Wrecking Ball in the spring of 2012. Two tracks, American Skin (41 Shots) and The Ghost Of Tom Joad, have been reworked from previous releases, while a handful of others have intermittently featured in live shows. The most notable difference to what went before is the inclusion of Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello on eight of the 12 tracks, adding a more pointedly searing sound on the title cut, the menacing gangster saga Harry’s Place and a cover of The Saints’ Just Like Fire Would.
By rights High Hopes should equal low expectations for Bruce Springsteen – however you dress it up, his eighteenth studio album is an odds’n’sods collection, and the graveyard mid-Jan release suggests his label sees it that way too. But actually this mix of material recorded on the fly last year plus other general stuff The Boss had knocking around feels liberated by the fact it clearly wasn’t conceptualised or recorded as an album. High Hopes is not going to shock anyone, but it is Springsteen's most vital-sounding set since The Seeger Sessions.
For most artists a collection of previously unreleased offcuts would be released without much fanfare, but Bruce Springsteen is not most artists. His 18th record is notable for giving his unfathomably sexy version of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ a home, and for developing his friendship with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who rocks up for a riff-heavy ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’. Elsewhere, Bruce’s take on The Saints’ ‘Just Like Fire Would’ brims with the youth of ‘Born To Run’.
For someone whose sustained reputation mostly rests on his legendary relationship with his fans, Bruce Springsteen seems to have a surprisingly large number of disgruntled followers. Rather than mass excitement, the announcement that 2012’s imperfect but much loved Wrecking Ball would be followed promptly with a studio album constructed from new recordings of old songs, relatively recent outtakes and (horror of horrors) cover versions prompted consternation and rash judgement. Some could not quite handle the bereavement that comes with the loss of Springsteen’s supposed ‘narrative or thematic arc’, common to most of his albums (although certainly not all of them – The River was pretty sprawling after all).
There isn't another Bruce Springsteen album like High Hopes. Cobbled together from covers -- of other songwriters along with the Boss himself ("American Skin [41 Shots]" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" are both revived) -- and outtakes from the last decade, High Hopes doesn't have the cohesion or gilded surfaces of Wrecking Ball, but neither is it quite a clearinghouse of leftovers. Inspired in part by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who has proven to be a brother in arms to Springsteen, as well as a substitute for Steven Van Zandt in the E-Street Band, High Hopes certainly bears the proud stamp of Morello, both in its workingman's politics and in its cinematic sound.
When deciding on material for 2006’s We Shall Overcome, a collection of songs popularized by Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen said he picked the ones he “heard [his] own voice in. ” For his new album, High Hopes, Bruce has once again turned to old songs for inspiration, but the 64 year-old singer utilizes a very different body of source material for his follow-up to 2012’s Wrecking Ball. Once endlessly selective with his own recordings, Springsteen has loosened his grip and become his own folk archivist on High Hopes, mining outtakes, cover songs, and fresh recordings of previously released material to help tell his latest story.
As a live performer, Bruce Springsteen has been burning down the road for the last 40 years, and judging by the fact that he played the longest show of his career in 2012, it appears that he still has a lot of gas left in the tank. As a songwriter and recording artist, however, he's running on reserves. Springsteen's latest studio album, High Hopes, being promoted as his 18th officially, is a mixed bag of covers, re-workings of songs that have appeared elsewhere, and previously unreleased material written for other projects.
High Hopes is possibly the strangest offering in the Bruce Springsteen catalog. Advance word has been mixed, owing almost exclusively to its patchwork construction. It has been well documented and much discussed, but it nonetheless bears repeating: High Hopes is comprised largely of holdovers from previous recording sessions, with a few stray covers and revamped originals thrown in for good measure.
Back in March of 2012, America was preparing once more to ramp its constant, slow-burning partisan warfare into an election-year orgiastic frenzy when Springsteen dropped Wrecking Ball. Beneath the bristle of working-class outrage that informed the album lay an appeal to the compassion and humanity that remains this country’s greatest strength. With his trademark mixture of stern reproval and unshakeable faith in Americans’ resilience and decency, Springsteen offered a refreshing antidote to the cynicism and political gamesmanship that dominated the last (and, indeed, every) election cycle.
This is not a Bruce Springsteen album proper, and so it can't really be judged against any of his previous efforts, except for possibly the equally mixed bag that was 2009's Working on a Dream. That record, too, was a self-acknowledged hodgepodge of reheated leftovers, outtakes, and miscellaneous debris (primarily from the previous, masterpiece-esque Magic), which was a curious dispatch from the normally stringent quality control-conscious Springsteen camp. In his first two decades as a professional rock star, Springsteen was known for being finicky and deliberating over the slightest nuance in his recorded work, occasionally frustrating fans with both his lack of official product and, perhaps most vexingly, his dismissal of strong songs that became fan favourites live or via illicit bootlegs (the latter attribute could be called 'Dylan-ing it').
Rage Against the Machine are probably best known here for the 2009 Facebook campaign to keep some X Factor mannequin from having a nice Christmas. But in 1992 the furious, politically charged LA band briefly gave rap-rock a good name. Their seething verses were matched by the guitar screeds of one Tom Morello, who could make his instrument sound like a DJ scratching vinyl while hiding a Harvard social studies degree in his back pocket.
Now in his mid 60s, Bruce Springsteen hasn't given much ground on his original persona, sticking to the iconic image of the denim-clad everyman with a soft spot for populist causes. Yet while the Boss has suffered from the same growing pains—from a general sense of familiarity to swelling sentimental mushiness—that afflict any artist in the fifth decade of their career, his refusal to change shouldn't be mistaken for lifelessness. As far as he may have risen from his working-class roots, Springsteen remains an active, if soft, voice of dissent, still interpreting current events with an eye for how they relate to wrongs of the past, continuing to carry the banner for fans still gripped with a functioning social conscience.
Bruce Springsteen's 18th studio album could hardly form a starker contrast to its immediate predecessor. Where 2012's Wrecking Ball was a finely focused howl of rage at the bankers behind the global financial crisis, High Hopes is a loose ragbag of curios, covers and reworked old material. Springsteen recorded it on the road, which means that this uncharacteristically scattergun material is lent cohesion by an E Street Band bang on top of their game.
High Hopes is a patchwork of Bruce Springsteen's loose scraps of Americana, like that stars-and-stripes flag that disenfranchised veterans on The Simpsons stitch together out of old clothes. The title track opens with a skiffling Bo Diddley beat that explodes into a singalong zydeco chorus. American Skin (41 Shots), written about the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, gains bonus resonance post-Trayvon Martin.
It's hard to avoid feeling like Bruce Springsteen hedged his bets with new release High Hopes. When he brought back some old tunes for 2012's Wrecking Ball, it was billed as a return to form (and rightfully so). When he does it for High Hopes, it's meant as a rarities collection, as if that would explain away its lack of cohesion, singles and general quality.
Regardless of the quality of the musical content, calling an album such a name can only open yourself up for criticism. If the contained music falls below the expected and usual standard then the criticism can be expected tenfold. All the mistakes laid bare, feasted on by the critics as if it were a carcass to some lucky scavengers. Mr.
As a rule, backing musicians have to be top-notch, the best in the world, but at the same time can never outshine whoever they’re backing. Bruce Springsteen‘s success is a little more tied to his band than others’: who can imagine “Born in the USA” without Clarence Clemons on sax, or “4th July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” minus the late Danny Federici’s accordion? These are undoubtedly pivotal moments in Springsteen’s career, and yet they never allow themselves to be too assertive. This is still the Boss’s game, after all.
Back in 2000, Bruce Springsteen debuted a new song called “American Skin (41 Shots)” at a concert in Atlanta. It was, he claimed, inspired by the death of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant who was shot 19 times when four New York City police officers mistook his wallet for a gun. The song was a deeply empathetic response to the tragedy, as a famous rock star tried to see the world from the point of view of both the police officers who work rough neighborhoods and the African American residents who find themselves in danger for even the most harmless actions.
If The Boss had never made another record after Born in the U.S.A., it still would’ve been more than enough. Shit, if all he’d ever done was rock out that one epic version of “Born to Run” at the Hammersmith Odeon in London in 1975 and hung it up right then and there the second he stepped off stage—that would have been enough. Not to be dismissive of his latter-day work—recent albums such as Magic, Working on a Dream and Wrecking Ball were better-than-solid, evidence of an artist who, after four decades, continues to bring a sense of passion and discovery to the record-making process.
Bruce Springsteen’s one hell of a storyteller. Forty-five years into his career, he continues to capture American life with his guitar and words, inspiring generations of singer-songwriters, and yada, yada, yada. Here’s the problem, though: He hasn’t actually said anything in years. Instead, he’s played the role of a preacher, delivering righteous sermons that are meant to lift spirits and preserve some sort of Americana that may or may not have died with Jack Kerouac.
Bruce Springsteen High Hopes (Columbia) Last time a monument act took outtakes and re-recordings to No. 1 with such Midas nonchalance might well fall to 1981's Tattoo You, the Rolling Stones' final studio masterpiece. Where the latter's vaults uncovered the single rifle crack among three-dozen reggae takes of "Start Me Up," Jersey's boss of bosses takes his LP opener and lead single straight back to soul, liquefying 1996 EP track "High Hopes" with horns, harmonies, and hip-hop rhythms shot through by Tom Morello's skid-mark guitar.
If you’re expecting brand-new material from Bruce Springsteen, this isn’t it. Instead, he culls his archives for previously unreleased tracks that are given fresh treatments, mixed with cover songs from the Aussie band the Saints and New York legends Suicide, along with fleshed-out studio versions of live favorites “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and protest anthem “American Skin (41 Shots).” It's an odds-and-sods collection featuring the E Street Band, added string players, and guitarist Tom Morello, the former Rage Against the Machine mainstay who filled in for Steven Van Zandt on Springsteen’s Australian tour. Morello is all over this album with mixed results.
The title track of the new Bruce Springsteen album is his second recorded shot (this time with Tom Morello, once of Rage Against the Machine, as his temporary lead guitarist) at a version of a certain sort of updated work song by a now-defunct, post-rockabilly, looking-for-the-lost-spirit-of ….
It's a tricky one to pull off well, the old 'collection of outtakes, covers and reworkings', but if the cynical among you (cynical in the presence of the Boss? The power of Bruce compels thee!) are thinking that this is a mere grab-bag of cash-grubbing offcuts, think again. Producer Ron Aniello, who also worked on 2012's Wrecking Ball, revealed in a recent interview that Springsteen typically agonises over the tracklist of an album for months, ruthlessly slicing off the producer's favourites at the 11th hour. Bruce cares about the finer points of his catalogue, y'see, and so, it seems, does everyone else these days.
Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album comes across as something of a stopgap. It’s a peculiar assortment of odds and ends (including – gasp! – cover versions) which also features modifications of older tracks that will already be very familiar to fans of The Boss. Leaving aside 2009’s uneven Working on A Dream, the bar has been set pretty high when it comes to 21st century Bruce.
Bruce Springsteen’s legacy has avoided becoming synonymous with one single genre or movement. Though the 64-year-old has done everything from crafting arena-filling rock songs to hushed acoustic numbers, The Boss has long dedicated himself to rambunctiously chasing whatever muse he finds himself taken with at that moment. His career is punctuated with course-altering albums, and the past decade has seen him release everything from a handful of full-band rock records to albums of re-worked folk standards.
Bruce Springsteen “High Hopes”. (Columbia).