Bruce Springsteen’s legendary songwriting may have provided a voice for social change, soundtracking more than a few righteous blue-collar drinking sessions in the 70s, but 2012’s marvellous Wrecking Ball was more likely to be found in the CD player of a Ford Mondeo, or as an accompaniment to white wine spritzers and spirited conversation about mortgage repayments.
However, whilst The Boss’ legacy floods the casual masses, most of his recent creative output still resonates with as much age-defying poignancy as it ever has. So there’s a paradox of sorts, that makes it hard to decipher which recent releases are worth the valuable time and attention of actual music fans. Unfortunately, despite a few moments of fist-clenching brilliance, ‘High Hopes’ isn’t really one of them.
A lot of Springsteen’s charm lies in his gruff narrative ability to craft heartfelt musical motifs across a full album. But whilst compiling new tracks with a few covers and re-recorded older songs, ‘High Hopes’ instantly comes across as scraps of impulse from differing sparks of inspiration in the mind of an otherwise occupied man.
Previously unreleased cuts – retrieved from the vault – are the best examples of this. ‘Harry’s Place’ conjures vivid imagery of a downtown bar, with a sinister bluesy plod and features wonderfully sleazy sax from the late great Clarence Clemons. But laid alongside the polished jig of ‘Frankie Fell In Love’, it makes little sense. ‘The Wall’ is a more engrossing affair, poetic and bitter, yet somehow heartwarmingly sincere in it’s composition. But then it’s impact is watered down amongst ‘Hunter Of Invisible Game’ and a slowly appropriated cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’.
But despite this inconsistency, there are moments of standalone wisdom that excel their surroundings. The title track is a prancing number that boots off the album perfectly, ‘Just Like Fire Would’ is a quintessential Springsteen cover of The Saints and an impressive re-recording of ’The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ recruits Tom Morello’s innovative guitar style and rambling croon towards an epic outcome.
However as a singular entity, ‘High Hopes’ isn’t really a worthwhile effort. The Boss seems to have released the album for those same fans that rediscovered him with Wrecking Ball. But Wrecking Ball was a cohesive statement and sadly, despite it’s various strengths in songwriting and instrumentation, ’High Hopes’ isn’t.