Most tracks are concert staples for Springsteen, whose live performances are still the stuff of legend, and the result is something in between a fresh album and a collection of B-sides and covers.
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Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist.
Guitars aren’t cool anymore. The kids are picking up synthesizers instead of Stratocasters and rock’s mainstays have been displaced by dancepop and hip hop. Of course, rock has been under attack before and made it through to the other side, largely thanks to the ceaseless work of its lord and savior, Bruce Springsteen.
It wouldn’t be quite right to call High Hopes a return to form for Springsteen; his previous album, Wrecking Ball, was an underrated comeback aimed square at the heart of the Great Recession and much of that album’s spirit continues here, even if the themes are necessarily scattered.
High Hopes is a smorgasbord of freshly recorded songs from the past decade that never made it onto a full studio album. Most tracks are concert staples for Springsteen, whose live performances are still the stuff of legend, and the result is something in between a fresh album and a collection of B-sides and covers. Many of the tracks might be familiar for serious fans, but the effort and production put into the album from start to finish make it clear that this is more than just an assortment of rarities or outtakes.
The massive opening title track leaves no doubt about The Boss’ continued brilliance as a commander, deftly balancing the E Street Band’s punchy horns and energetic piano with collaborator Tom Morello’s sharp, squealing guitar. Here and there, a lively choir pops up to back the gruff, familiar vocals, part of a holdover from the scrapped gospel project Springsteen was working on before Wrecking Ball. It’s a wonderful introduction to an album of creative odds and ends.
These tracks weren’t left out of the previous studio material due to any lack of quality, but because Springsteen (ever the visionary perfectionist) felt they didn’t adhere enough to the albums’ themes. “American Skin (41 Shots)” was written in 2000 after the infamous police shooting death of Amadou Diallo at the hands of NYPD officers, but the song recently returned to Springsteen’s setlists after the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin.
Ultimately, High Hopes is a little bit too reliant on inspirational Springsteen at the expense of the arguably superior frustrated Springsteen and righteously angry Springsteen. The joy of “Frankie Fell In Love” is almost enough to make you forget “Rosalita” was more than 40 years ago, but Springsteen doesn’t let us forget he’s also the genius who penned Nebraska. On the sparse, somber Vietnam War memorial “The Wall,” he tiptoes on the line between melodrama and real pain.
High Hopes sags a bit in the middle, but it picks up with a new version of Springsteen’s own “Ghost of Tom Joad” from the weak 1995 album of the same name. As it turns out, what the original version was missing was Tom Morello, whose distinctive lead guitar lends the old song new life.
The album closes the same way his concerts do as of late — with a soaring, Springsteenified cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.” To hear it described, a Springsteen concert is practically a religious service and Pastor Bruce’s final call to action is a fine synthesis of his extraordinary career to date. As a fan, it’s a relief to hear High Hopes. The earnestness and soul never left, but the edge did, and to hear The Boss right again is to know that everything is right in the world.