Monday, December 30, 2013
Bruce's "High Hopes" : Everything Old Is New Again
I can't recall ever having lower expectations for a record by a favorite artist than those I've been carrying around since the initial announcement of Bruce Springsteen's "High Hopes." New music is an event, especially when the time between seems to increase as our rock and roll legends get older. Though, in The Boss's case, he has been quite prolific these last 15 years, even if the output hasn't exactly sounded what E-Street Band fans long for.
Personally, I've not only enjoyed Bruce's records since 2002's "The Rising," I think "The Seeger Sessions," "Wrecking Ball" and especially "Magic" are inspired pieces of work. Still, an upcoming record of outtakes, covers and redos felt like nothing more than product. Throw Tom Morello into the mix, whose one-note guitar style with a sound resembling Ned Beatty's "Deliverance" squeal adds a certain nothing to the proceedings, and I'm already counting the days until the 2015 follow-up to "High Hopes" without having a heard a note.
So maybe this is why I really like "High Hopes." I expected not to.
The biggest surprise is how wonderfully cohesive the record is. It plays beautifully, and not at all like some Frankenstein audio monster assembled and stitched from tossed off parts.
Some may argue that the live versions of the songs presented here in recorded form are better. One friend suggested that idea for a Bruce record of its own, a live album full of previously unreleased songs culled from one tour, like the Grateful Dead sort of did with "Europe '72" Until then, "High Hopes," "The Wall," "Just Like Fire Would" and "Dream Baby Dream" are all fine pieces of music. As for the inclusion of "American Skin (41 Shots)," I liked it then and I like it now. It feels like the centerpiece of the record.
"Down In The Hole" sounds like "I'm On Fire" with new lyrics. "Frankie Fell In Love" sounds like it was recorded during "The River" sessions. It's okay. The songs work. Most of what's included here will remind you of something better, but that doesn't mean what's here isn't worth your time. With the exception of "Harry's Place," a leftover from "The Rising" sessions and a song whose dated production makes it sound like something that could be played over the credits of "Lethal Weapon 3," and the redo of "The Ghost Of Tom Joad," with a Morello solo that shredded each and every one of my nerves, "High Hopes" is solid.
If you've been less than satisfied with Springsteen's output lately, "High Hopes" sounds the closest to an E-Street Band rock record than anything he's put out in some time. The songs themselves may not be A-list material, but there is more than enough here to keep you smiling.