High Hopes for Springsteen’s new album

Bruce Springsteen’s eighteenth studio album, High Hopes, is a re-imagining of material from previous albums, tours and EP’s, as well as from other artists. In that sense, it is a new venture for The Boss, a prolific songwriter and creative powerhouse who has built a career on just the right mixture of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ tracks and an urgent relevance that has kept him on the radio and the top of the charts for three decades. He again ushers the E Street Band into the studio for this album, as well as guest guitarist Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) who adds lively, but sometimes redundant edges to the tracks he is featured on.
High Hopes lacks the cohesion of Springsteen’s previous albums, but considering that it is a collection of covers and outtakes, this fact doesn’t detract from its quality. Instead of having a distinct theme, it plays like a journey through Springsteen’s career, from the stadium rock anthems he is known for, to more modern and eclectic tracks that symbolise his relevance in a fast-changing musical landscape.
High Hopes is, however, accompanied by the same production issues that have dogged the late-career Bruce. The production is at times overzealous and artificial. On the title track Morello’s guitar squeals become annoying and actually distract from the crisp nature of the song’s other elements. 41 Shots, the powerful social commentary on police brutality that it is, gets lost in unnecessary electronic distortions.
The record delivers jewels too – tracks that make you wonder how they were ever cut from albums, or never recorded in the first place. Frankie Fell In Love reminds you that sixty-something Bruce is every bit the rocker he was in the Eighties and their cover of Just Like Fire Would serves as a reminder that the E Street Band, when they get it right, is a unique phenomenon in modern rock music.
Undoubtedly the climax of the album is The Ghost of Tom Joad, a track first released as an acoustic version, and later covered by Rage Against The Machine. On this album it comes into its own – it is angry and prophetic, filled with indignation and a sense of overdue hope.
If The Boss is thinking of retiring soon (it doesn’t look that way), High Hopes sounds like the tying up of loose ends – a collection of special tracks that have been too good not to record for the last twenty years. For fans that have been with him since the Seventies and teenagers who are discovering his music for the first time alike, this album tells a side of Springsteen that his illustrious career would be incomplete without.

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