High Hopes

posted in: Opinion | 0
Springsteen
Photo Credit: Bill Ebbesen

On January 14, Bruce Springsteen released High Hopes, his eighteenth studio album and his eleventh album to hit number one on the United States charts.

This is not a normal Springsteen album in that there are no new songs. It is comprised entirely of reimagined tracks, covers, and alternate versions of previous songs. Unfortunately, avid Springsteen fans have probably heard most of the material before, as most of the songs are performed live with some frequency, posted on YouTube, or available on some of the Boss’s more obscure albums. Here is the tracklist for High Hopes:

 

  1. “High Hopes”

  2. “Harry’s Place”

  3. “American Skin (41 Shots)”

  4. “Just Like Fire Would”

  5. “Down in the Hole”

  6. “Heaven’s Wall”

  7. “Frankie Fell in Love”

  8. “This Is Your Sword”

  9. “Hunter of Invisible Game”

  10. “Ghost of Tom Joad”

  11. “The Wall”

  12. “Dream Baby Dream”

 

The title song, “High Hopes,” is decent because it, along with “Ghost of Tom Joad,” takes advantage of the added depth and excitement that Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine brings on the guitar. “High Hopes” has meaningful lyrics and an enjoyable melody, but drags on about three quarters of a minute too long.

Two of the album’s tracks, “The Wall” and “American Skin (41 Shots),” have overtly meaningful lyrics. “The Wall” concerns itself with the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., while “American Skin (41 Shots)” is about the death of Amadou Diallo, a man shot to death by police in February of 1999. Springsteen performed the latter song live several times in the early 2000s, and brought the song back in the last few years as a way of talking about the death of Trayvon Martin. “American Skin (41 Shots)” is excellent live in concert.

“Just Like Fire Would” and “Ghost of Tom Joad” are the album’s best two songs. Tom Morello and Springsteen performed “Ghost of Tom Joad” together live during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert, and reunited to record it for High Hopes. The song fits Tom Morello’s loud, outspoken style well, and it is a great way of reimagining the title track of Springsteen’s 1995 album. “Just Like Fire Would” is a rare cover song for Bruce, but is done very well, and is another song that is great live.

In spite of several high-quality songs, the album just isn’t up to par with Springsteen’s usual standards due to its lack of fresh material. That is not to say that Springsteen outtakes can’t be excellent records. His Tracks album, with over sixty songs, hides several fan favorites and absolute gems.  So a large-scale “unwanted” material release like High Hopes or Tracks is not unprecedented for the Boss. However, the allure of Tracks was much greater because much of Springsteen’s unreleased work was just as good (sometimes better) than the released material. In this case, High Hopes’s quality is nowhere close to that of Wrecking Ball, The Rising, or Magic, Bruce’s best work of the past two decades.

When it comes to pure enjoyability, High Hopes is similar to Working on a Dream or some of Bruce’s mediocre work from the nineties.  Like those albums, some individual tracks work on their own, but most people wouldn’t want to sit down and listen to the entire record in one sitting. Unlike Wrecking Ball or The Rising, there seems to be little emotion or message.  The album is just the sum of its parts, nothing more.

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