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.


13 comments:

Anything Should Happen said...

I've been a bit tardy visiting here lately and I apologise.

I can't add anything to this Sal, you are absolutely spot on.

izzy said...

Happy New Year, Sal, my friend. Be well and make it count.

Chris Collins said...

looking forward to hearing it now. because previously, I felt exactly like you did.

Christopher Schmid said...

Happy New Year Sal!

I am not quite sure how I feel about this release. I was more than thrilled by Magic and Wrecking Ball but totally not by Working On A Dream. My current level of anticipation for this based on the advance press is pretty low so I am hoping that I will be pleasantly surprised. I remain skeptical.

Bruce is entitled to make whatever music he wants..now more so than ever. I just don't know if Bruce and I like the same kind of music anymore. I know it's kind of selfish on my part but I've been along for the ride for a long time.

I guess time and repeated listens will tell.

steve simels said...

Can't wait to hear it now. And Happy New Year, pal!

FD13NYC said...

A Happy New Year to you and yours Sal. Hope we could get together in 2014!

kevin m said...

I'll certainly give this a spin. And thanks for the review! Happy New Year Sal!

Charlie Messing said...

Thanks, Sal, and Happy New Year!

peabody nobis said...

I enjoyed this record very much. Call me crazy, but I even liked the guitar solo on "Joad".
Although I liked "Wrecking Ball", it was a fairly dark, depressing listen. These songs, old as they may be, are vibrant and hopeful. I wish all artists could produce this level of music into their AARP years.

Eric said...

leave Ned beatty alone

Gyro1966 said...

The Tom M. guitar can get on my nerves, Sal. How do you feel about his grating style of play?

Troy said...

Glad to hear you like the new record. I have it pre-ordered and can wait until it comes in, then will give it a full listen. I was/am wondering how much I will like it. I loved the Rising and Magic, liked Seeger Sessions, but was very lukewarm on Wrecking Ball and flat-out disliked most of WOAD. I guess I'll find out in a couple of weeks. Happy New Year, Sal!

Gyro1966 said...

The album does have a very modern recording style, which will take getting used for some. The album came up this morning to play entirely in my shuffle, and it was just too much at 7:15 in the morning. They have achieved a very professional recording studio sound, full of today's recording advantages to bring it right up to 2014. I immediately took it off and played my Starday Hillbilly collection instead.