Based on the commentary on this record that has already surfaced, “High Hopes,” out on January 14, seems to be a polarizing album. Some people love it, some hate it. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle.
The Boss couldn’t make a bad record if he tried. However, “High Hopes” feels a bit thrown together. It plays like a compilation of b-sides, and, in a sense, it is. Some of the tracks are revisited Springsteen classics, some are tracks that didn’t make the cut on the albums for which they were written and others are covers.
For me, the highlight of this album is the revamped version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Tom Morello’s mind-blowing solos are some of the best work of his entire career. Some folks are sure to prefer Springsteen’s original stripped-down acoustic cut, but this harder-rocking arrangement adds some power and angst to his timeless critique of social injustice.
Morello, who filled in for E Street axe slinger Steven Van Zandt last year during an Australian tour, features heavily on the album. His effects laden style ornaments several songs, notably the new cut of “American Skin (41 Shots),” and he lends his acoustic talents to the cover of The Saints’ “Just Like Fire Would.”
“Down in the Hole,” with its haunting organ (compiled by producer Brendan O’Brien from late E Street keyboardist Danny Federici‘s archived material) and violin interludes, is a highlight. Lyrically, “Hunter of Invisible Game,” features the kind of songwriting that makes The Boss the boss: heartfelt, thoughtful and rich in allegories and metaphors.
Elsewhere, however, the album leaves something to be desired. “Frankie Fell In Love” sounds like a discarded John Mellencamp tune. “Harry’s Place” – despite solid accompaniment from Morello and the late Clarence Clemons – and the title track have all the trappings of classic Springsteen but don’t fully connect.
Ultimately, “Born To Run” this album is not, nor does it measure up to more recent works like “Magic” or “The Rising,” but, as I stated before, The Boss does not put out bad music. Though it’s sort of a placeholder between “Wrecking Ball” and Bruce’s next iconic album, “High Hopes” is more than worth your time.