High Hopes (2014)


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.The Ghost of Tom Joad 11.Wall 12.Dream Baby Dream

 

B ruce Springsteen's loyal fans are always clamoring for him to release more of his unreleased stuff that he has stored away in a vault somewhere. I can't think of any other artist that has so much incredible material that has never seen the light of day (that's a pun that you'll get if you're a real Springsteen fan). It's a bit ironic, then, when he actually does such a thing for this album, that the overall effort is rather mediocre.

Listening to this record, one gets the impression that there is no clear focus here. There are so many different styles, covers, re-released songs and blaring differences amongst the material, that the listener is left scratching his head. To complicate matters, Bruce decides to bring in Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello to greatly enhance this album with his songwriting, singing, and guitar playing. While I admire an artist (especially one close to being able to collect Social Security) for taking chances and experimenting with new directions, I'm really not sure this particular experiment works very well. First, I seriously doubt that many Springsteen fans are also fans of Rage Against the Machine. It's a bit like oil and water. If you're not familiar with this particular band and listen to some of their music, I doubt you would last past a few songs. Nothing personal, it's just that this style is simply too much for the average classic rock fan that grew up in the 1960s.

Morello doesn't really play electric guitar, he shreds it. No, when I use this particular vernacular, I'm being quite literal. Imagine one putting and electric guitar into a giant blender and then pressing the "on" switch. It's quite annoying. But, Bruce sees something in the guy, so we have a lot of songs that sound like one musically scraping their nails against a blackboard. Sorry, but this guy's guitar playing gives me a headache.

Truth be told, most of the music here really isn't bad, it's just not particularly great - which is what a Springsteen fan expects with each and every new album. It should also be mentioned that Morello really isn't the problem here. Had his playing and influence not been here, this record wouldn't be that much better. Bruce leads this album off with the title track, that is a cover of someone else (Not sure who. Those who follow music more closely than me could probably tell you) that never really goes anywhere. It sounds more of a high school march, with its blaring brass and monotonous chorus that goes on and on. It sounds nothing like Bruce, and one of the weakest things on the record. The other cover, Dream Baby Dream, which closes the album is much better - but still sounds a bit out of place (come to think of it, everything here sounds out of place). He actually closed his "acoustic" Devils and Dust tour with this track, so many of the faithful had heard this one and were already familiar with the track.

Speaking of tracks that fans have heard, this album also contains two "repeats". American Skin (41 shots) makes its studio debut here. Previously it was released on a live album. It feels a bit unnecessary - not much different than the live version. The other repeat is an electric version of The Ghost of Tom Joad from the album of the same name. Fortunately, this song is powerful and easily the best thing on this record. It makes one wish he'd re-release that entire album with this sort of enhancement. That particular record really needs this sort of treatment. Sadly, this is the one song where Tom Morello actually sings and this actually brings the song down a notch. Luckily, his voice isn't that much different from Bruce's, so if one squints their eyes hard enough, they can imagine that it's actually Bruce doing the singing.

The rest of the album features a bit of old, new, familiar, eclectic and so on. There's enough here for the faithful to find a few nuggets to treasure - especially songs such as Frankie Fell in Love and Just Like Fire Would (that's Fire Would, not Firewood) that sound like the old, classic Springsteen that caused a bazillion people to fall in love with him oh so long ago.

I'm glad he got this record out of his system, but am hoping for something quite different next time. What's really sad is the strange irony of this album's title and how far away that mark was actually met.

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