Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen -High Hopes

Bruce Springsteen
High Hopes
*** out of *****
Bruce Springsteen's later career albums all seem to be defined by larger themes, ever since the gospel spirituality of a reborn E-Street band via Live in New York CityThe Rising kept that sense of spiritual and physical rebirth present in the wake of September 11th, Magic had glimpses of disillusionment with war and Wrecking Ball contained songs dealing with the poor state of the economy (I got no idea what Working On A Dream was about, that's best left forgotten to these ears). However The Bosses newest release High Hopes is a different beast, a collection of cover material, unreleased originals and reworked tunes. 

Things are scattered, there is less gospel preaching and extended vamps, and even restrained singing providing a looser feel to the overall effort. Included in the linear notes to the album Springsteen hypes a major collaborator Tom Morello who filled in with the band on a recent tour and inspired Bruce, appearing on 8 of the tracks here.

With that announcement thoughts instantly move to a harder rock/twisted funk sound Morello is known for but that is not the case. Songs build and flow as Morello plays augmenter rather then guitar wizard, reminiscent to Nils Cline role upon joining Wilco, perhaps even more understated.  Not everything on the disk is a success, but Morello's input always hits its mark.

Opener, title track and first cover "High Hopes" seems to be caught between all out rave up and cutting political statement. When the full, huge sounding band complete with everything from horns to accordion to wah-wah builds up it works well but the overall energy seems to be lacking a bit. A good snapshot of the album overall, interesting glimpses but something just a touch off in the end.

On the better end of things, the slinky "Harry's Place" contains saxophone work from Clarence Clemons (the song was original an outtake from The Rising) and very nuanced guitar work from Morello. The tightness of "This Is Your Sword" and the looseness of "Frankie Fell In Love" show opposite sides to the current state of the artist and both succeed taking different paths.

The longest efforts here will be familiar to fans as "American Skin (41 Shots)" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" both get a proper studio recording. While both have the difficulty of comparing to explosive live versions of the tunes, the studio versions are dramatic and well represented. If anything removed from the political protests "American Skin (41 Shots)" has aged better then expected.

Some of the other efforts don't work as well, "Hunter of Invisible Game" and "Just Like Fire Would" both feel oddly dull, a touch uninspired and could use some more energy. The obvious gospel outtake "Heaven's Wall", while not a horrible song, just feels completely out of place on this collection.  

Because of it's re-branded nature High Hopes contains a searching feel to it, not unlike mid-nineties Bob Dylan efforts. The musicality and freedom with which Springsteen is working with feels fresh if the tunes themselves may not. This could be a transitional disk for the man and his various bands or just a blip on the radar but aspects of it (like Morello's contributions) will hopefully flow into the next chapter of Springsteen's career. 
An interesting collection of songs, super impressed with what Tom Morello brings to the fold and a bit more interested to see what the Boss brings to Jazzfest this year.

Support the artist here, buy the album here, peep some video below:
"High Hopes"

"Ghost Of Tom Joad" Live:

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