High Hopes review by Bruce Springsteen

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  • Released: Jan 10, 2014
  • Sound: 8
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 6.8 (14 votes)
Bruce Springsteen: High Hopes

Sound — 8
"High Hopes" is a record that the Boss himself has described as "a bit of an anomaly." Recorded between legs of The E Street Band's mammoth Wrecking Ball tour, it is the first Springsteen album to be comprised entirely of covers, outtakes and "reimagined" versions of songs from past albums. To be honest, that's not a great sign. If an artist announces that their next album will be a collection of such odds and sods, it usually means they're running on empty. Yet, "High Hopes" shows that Springsteen has still got plenty of juice left in the tank, even if it sometimes feels like a choppy ride.

Probably because of the bit-y nature of its recording sessions, High Hopes is rarely a flowing album. While 2012's "Wrecking Ball" was a coherent listening experience, the latest offering is rag-tag selection of disparate songs. It's all over the place stylistically. Rootsy tracks like "Hunter of Invisible Game" clash with stadium anthems, such as the reworked "The Ghost of Tom Joad." "Down in the Hole" evokes the slick, synth driven production of "Born in the USA," while "The Wall" is in many ways reminiscent of the understated delivery of "Nebraska." Given the somewhat disjointed nature of the album, you have to wonder whether it would have been better served as a series of EPs.

Fortunately, while "High Hopes" is stylistically and sequentially discrepant, the quality of the songs on offer is largely consistent. Indeed, moments of the album are up there with Springsteen's best. The rousing title track is a great example of the Boss's ability to write an anthem. The epic, near 8 minute version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad," which makes prominent use of the guitar and vocals of Tom Morello, is an improvement over the original acoustic version. "Frankie Fell in Love" is a welcome call back to tracks like "Rosalita" and "Hungry Heart" on which The E Street Band shines.

But where "High Hopes" really pays off is in its quieter moments. "Hunter of Invisible Game," a track which evokes "Desire" era Bob Dylan, feels like new territory for Springsteen, and is an undoubted album highlight. "The Wall" is beautifully introspective, stripped back and personal in a way that the always bombastic "Wrecking Ball" never managed to achieve.

Lyrics — 8
While "Wrecking Ball" was a straightforwardly angry affair lyrically, "High Hopes" is more varied in its storytelling. In that sense, the album is much richer than it's predecessor, feeling more like classic Springsteen. Perhaps unsurprising, given the presence of Tom Morello, the Boss still rages against the machine on tracks like "American Skin" (which, while originally written about the shooting of Amadou Diallo, has been resurrected in recent years in response to the shooting of Trayvon Martin) and "The Grapes of Wrath" referencing Tom Joad. Yet, there is also warmth and humor throughout, such as the moment where the Boss envisages Shakespeare and Einstein debating true love in small town America on "Frankie Fell in Love":

"Einstein and Shakespeare
Sitting having a beer
Einstein trying to figure out the number that adds up to this
Shakespeare said, 'Man it all starts with a kiss'"

Combine that with the introspection of "Hunter of Invisible Game" ("We all come up a little short and we go down hard, These days I spend my time skipping through the dark") with the profound sense of loss expressed in "The Wall" ("Cigarettes and a bottle of beer, This poem that I wrote for you, This black stone and these hard tears, Are all I've got left now of you") and you have a substantial body of lyrics that reward repeated listening.

Overall Impression — 8
"High Hopes" might lack the cohesion of "Wrecking Ball," but a money grabbing stopgap it most definitely ain't. While the scattershot nature of the track listing means it takes a while to get into, repeated listens reveal a number of songs that rank amongst the best the Boss has released in recent years.

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    It's nice to hear Danny and Clarence again on record, how I've missed that organ on the last two records. The cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream" is fantastic. I just wish Bruce would go ahead and release Tracks 2 or something similar. His unreleased stuff is some of his best.
    Didn't have much hope for this one. I just can't accept Tom Morello's guitar sound with Bruce songs. But this album definitely has some salvageable piece. I wouldn't say it's his best album by a looooong shot, but I would recommend Just Like Fire Would, Heaven's Wall, Frankie Fell in Love, (and maybe High Hopes to any old school Springsteen fan.
    I wish he could have "reimagined" Johnny 99. The version he pulled out on the Wrecking Ball tour was just killer....
    The various live renditions of the Nebraska album are awesome. I've always loved the Harmonica intro to the 1985/84 tour version of "Johnny 99", shame he stopped doing it. The River boxset comes out some time later this year or early next, so Nebraska would be next, since he's released a boxset for every album from Born To Run on. The Darkness one was amazing. Every song but "State Trooper" has a full band version that was recorded for the album but scrapped when he just released the album as basically a demo. "Electric Nebraska" will probably be released eventually and most of the songs are probably close to the versions played on the 1984/85 Born In the U.S.A. tour. The live version of "State Trooper" was very impressive it fits the "Frankie Teardrop" vibe of that song. The synth is so spooky
    "The rousing title track is a great example of the Boss's ability to write an anthem." Erm...you do realise it's a cover of a Tim Scott song?
    This was on CBC radio, you know right there its not going to be very good. After hearing the first half of the song I decided for sure that this was an aweful song, hope the rest of the songs aren't this bad.
    This was on the last episode of Good Wife, you know right there it's going to be very good. After hearing the first half of the song I decided for sure that this was a great song, hope the rest of the songs are this good.
    Because its on a TV show, means a song is good? Usually its the other way around. It isnt good enough as a song, so they use it as background noise. Im not bashing it, just saying that its a really mixed up song.