I’ve listened to Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album, High Hopes, a few times now. From the initial stream last week via CBS and since it’s UK release on Monday, it’s been on my rotation a bit. My initial reaction after hearing a mere two tracks, as you might have read, was excitement.
My sentiments have cooled a little, but not nearly as much as the LA Times‘ Randall Roberts, who suggests the ‘past [is] threatening to overtake Bruce Springsteen’. I don’t think that is the case. Even if it is, I’m willing to take Springsteen’s past over most new musicians’ future. Still, Roberts does have a point. For example, ‘Down In A Hole’ feels out of place, even in this non-cohesive album.
It is comprised of covers, previously unreleased tracks and reworked live songs. The majority of the songs do work, notably ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’. Originally written for the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in 1999, it takes on new resonance after the killing of Trayvon Martin — for whom Springsteen dedicated the song at numerous European dates last summer. It’s filled with bitterness of the injustice of the act, a typical Springsteen trope. The reworking of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ is also a highlight of the album. Filled with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello’s blistering guitar and gravelly voice, it has been transformed into a real rocker; though don’t tell that to Pitchfork, who think Morello’s presence is ‘unwelcome’ on the album.
‘Frankie Fell In Love’ may not have been good enough for The Rising, but the take here makes me, at least, wonder why not. It’s rollicking and fun, as is the next track, ‘This Is Your Sword’, which adds a bit of Celtic flavour to Springsteen’s repertoire. Even the covers — ‘High Hopes’, originally by The Havalinas, or ‘Just Like Fire Would’ from Australia’s The Saints andd Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ — are welcome additions to the catalogue for me.
Two of my other favourites, ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’ and ‘The Wall’ offer a more sombre, thoughtful, and at times bitter man. The laments for lost friends are as heartfelt as they are heart wrenching. Still, maybe it’s a good thing some of these tracks didn’t make it originally though, as it allows us one more opportunity to hear the late Clarence Clemons’ saxophone and Danny Federici’s piano.
3.8 out of 5