on 26 January 2014
Much has been made of the fact that the Boss' newest album is more a patchwork quilt compared to his classics because the songs and/or recordings are from a variety of sessions, or are covers, or are re-workings of previously released songs. Whilst it's been common for fans to have encyclopaedic knowledge of their favourite artists' works, right down to session dates and origins of songs, I fear that such devoted attention to detail has somewhat prejudiced their initial attitude towards "High Hopes" as an album, perhaps believing it to be padded with filler. Whatever the Boss' motives, frankly I don't give a damn if he did pad out this album with filler because overall I think it's a sensational piece of work, beautifully sequenced and remarkably punchy. I just picked it up on impulse today and played it from start to finish on my pokey little Phillips stereo and I was hooked all the way through to the marvellously funereal cover of "Dream Baby Dream".
Of the covers and re-workings, "High Hopes" as it appears here packs more of a wallop than Springsteen's first bash at it, which ended up hidden away as a B-side or an extra track on a CD single. That particular version now strikes me as casually urgent. I didn't actually realise it was a cover and until recently assumed it was a Springsteen original. Lyrically, it suits the Boss' style perfectly and this new arrangement is brassier and more defiant. The electrified "Ghost Of Tom Joad" with Tom Morello has been a live favourite for some time and it's great to have this dynamic studio recording as part of this set. It's quite evident from this and several other songs on "High Hopes" that the seething anger of the "Wrecking Ball" album hasn't abated.
It's a testament to Springsteen's genius in arranging and his sureness in knowing exactly what sounds he wants to hear that results in Tom Morello's scorching guitar being so cohesively and brilliantly slotted into 7 of the songs. They've formed a wonderful bond over the years and this latest musical partnership has textured Springsteen's music so effectively I can't imagine another album or tour without his participation.
"Harry's Place" has a groove similar to Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues". I like it a lot.
"American Skin" is as potent as ever, Springsteen's vocal sounding a little like it's coming from a radio news report.
"Just Like Fire Would" is another cover which Springsteen has effortlessly made his own. Again, this could have quite easily come from his back catalogue. A great song and a classic Springsteen performance.
I'm still absorbing the other tunes but I know that as soon as the CD finished playing I wanted to go back to the beginning and listen again. That can't be a bad thing. I was genuinely surprised at how good this album sounded as the other reviews had prepared me for disappointment. I'd rate this particular album higher than "Working On A Dream", another "hot off the tour" studio album. Although many of the songs on "Working On A Dream" are excellent and even though the album does successfully capture the rush of enthusiasm from the road, some of the songs felt rushed and under developed. On "High Hopes" the Boss has made a more judicious selection of songs and the arrangements are more considered. This is a confident sounding Springsteen and boldly experimental on his terms.
I hope people will give this album a chance.
on 16 January 2014
There are a number of negative reviews on here which I find confusing. Springsteen is at the point of his career where he's not really picking up 'new' fans per se, so the majority of comments here are from his legion of dedicated fans. Why lambast him for releasing new material, irrespective of whether it's a concise new album or individual tracks written and recorded over the past 10 years or so which didn't make an album released during those years? If you like, this is a mini Tracks, a compilation of songs that don't have an over-arching narrative which the majority of his albums normally do (hence why these songs didn't fit onto past albums).
Instead, we should savour the fact that The Boss still prefers the old school method of releasing songs on a format most of his fans still adhere to. If this was a newer artist, these would be download only, or part of an extended package as an additional disc on a Wrecking Ball Special Edition which is a rip-off for those who already purchased the album.
As it is, this album is pretty good. Bruce is in good voice and the arrangements and performances from The E Street Band with the overly hyped addition of Tom Morello make this the best sounding full band album since The Rising.
Harry's Place which is a seriously groovy funk track with added profanities and worth the price of the album alone! The Wall which reminded me of The Wrestler from Working On A Dream and Dream Baby Dream which is an amazing and uplifting end to the album.
Also of note are American Skin (41 Shots) which is very well known as a live track from his reunion tour with the E Street Band back in 1999 and a harder rocking version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad with added guitar histrionics from Morello.
Overall, a fine album which avoids the more political anthems from Wrecking Ball but delivers a varied range of styles utilised by Springsteen since the mid 90's.
on 20 January 2014
Comparing modern day Springsteen albums with pre "Tunnel of Love" Springsteen albums is an unfair and unjust task.
The best songs since the E Street Band Reunion in 1999 (such as The Rising, Long Walk Home, Land of Hope and Dreams), as good as they are, are never going to compare to the Born to Run's and Thunder Road's of the world.
However, Bruce is still very capable of putting together a strong showing. 2002's "The Rising" proved that and 2007's fantastic "Magic" remains his strongest showing since the aforementioned "Tunnel". So with that said Springsteen fans would have had `high hopes' for this latest grab bag offering consisting of cover songs, reimagined older songs and songs that were originally cast aside from other albums. The results are somewhat mixed leaving the album floundering, being better than 2009's "Working on a Dream" but not quite as strong as 2012's critically acclaimed but in reality middle of the road "Wrecking Ball".
The three cover songs "High Hopes", "Just like Fire Would" and "Dream Baby Dream" are fine but hardly likely to leave any lasting impact on Springsteen gigs in the future. Springsteen original "The Wall" also has enough of Sting's "Fields of Gold" in it to add it to this category.
"Frankie Fell in Love" sounds like it belongs on Tracks CD2 with other River outtakes and is decent enough as a filler track while the dirty sounding "Harry's Place", despite the unnecessary F Bombs, is well worth a listen.
"American Skin (41 Shots)" and the electric Tom Morello inspired version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad" both already well familiar with live audiences also find a place on this album. The former - a controversial song when first debuted in 1999 - is long overdue a place on a studio album and sounds great. The latter is also well worth a listen (with a shared vocal with the younger artist as well as some terrific guitar work) but it has to be said that the definitive version of this great song has already appeared on the album of the same name in 1995.
This leaves the three album highlights. "Down in the Hole" has very much an "I'm on Fire" vibe to it and while not quite reaching the heights of that classic it still sounds superb. "Heaven's Wall" is another terrific effort, soaring high with an instantly catchy tune, while it's hard to imagine why the brilliant "Hunter of Invisible Game" was ever left of any album.
Perhaps the biggest strength of "High Hopes" is that Bruce has taken these older songs, cover songs and reimagined songs and threaded them together to make them sound like one album and while that album is not without fault, there is enough good on it to make it a worthy addition to any Springsteen fans collection.
I suspect that most people looking at this page will be long-term Springsteen fans like me who will already have ordered this no matter what any reviews say, but for what it's worth I think this is a pretty good album: not a Springsteen classic but well worth having. I thought it might just be some previously rejected, sub-standard old stuff cobbled together but it's a lot better than that. I was very lucky to receive an advance copy of this album and I've listened to it a lot over the last couple of weeks. I'm glad I did because I was unimpressed on first hearing, but it's improved a lot with repeated playing.
It's hard for Bruce to follow the excellent Wrecking Ball because that was such a passionate, heartfelt album. Tracks like Death To My Hometown came from deep in his heart and it showed. Here, there's not so much of that and I think there are a couple of pretty weak tracks, but there are some fine songs and a few real belters - a fine out-and-out Springsteen rocker in Frankie Fell In Love and a terrific, driving, full-rock-band version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad, for example. American Skin has grown on me a lot and I think it may be among my list of Bruce classics in the end. He sounds rather like JJ Cale in Harry's Place and very like Dylan in Hunter Of Invisible Game, both of which are very good songs... I'd describe it as a varied and interesting set with some great highlights.
Springsteen's lyrics have always been a real strength. His fine, heartfelt stories in natural-sounding language have made songs like The River, Racing In The Street and dozens of others genuine classics, and he also regularly comes up with simple but brilliant couplets like,
"Somewhere along the line I stepped off track -
One step up and two steps back..."
This is not so much in evidence here. For example, there are no rhymes in either High Hopes or Just Like Fire Would (the weakest track on the album for me). This is hard to pull off in a rock song and doesn't really work here. There are some fine lyrical moments on the album - notably in The Wall and American Skin - but there's not that much in the way of real classic stuff.
I'm also slightly dubious about some of the production, which strays more toward pop than rock values at times. There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't think it sits all that well with Springsteen's style in a lot of songs. For example, in Down The Hole the vocals begin in a compressed down-a-phone-line effect and then suddenly (and quite randomly) become normal - it just seems like a pointless and gimmicky trick to me which diminishes a good song.
I don't want to carp too much - the good far outweighs the poor here and I doubt that any of Bruce's fans will be disappointed. He sings with real heart most of the way through and there's no doubt that the man has still got it. This isn't up there with his genuine classic albums and it's not as good as Wrecking Ball, but it certainly doesn't disgrace a truly great songwriter and performer and I'll still be playing a lot of it for years to come, I think. My advice is to buy it and play it a lot - I think you'll like it.
It pains me to review a Springsteen album with anything less than unidirectional approval - the man is has been a hero of mine since childhood and I've been in awe of him for as long as I can remember... but I've been struggling hard lately to maintain my usual levels of adoration and felt duty bound to offer a counterpoint to the other reviews here, which seem disproportionately complimentary to me. Five stars? Really? High Hopes caps off a trilogy of disappointments for me that started with the career-low of Working On A Dream. Wrecking Ball was a class above that (and this) record, but still suffered from the same over-polished, overly-pumped-up production values, plus the odd bit of misjudged Dropkick Murphys-style Celtic punk (a problem that resurfaces here on This Is Your Sword). There, as here, song quality varies. Worse still, even the decent songs are rendered poorly - the results can sound a bit like treading water. There's certainly no shortage of good songs here: 41 Shots (American Skin) is an extraordinary example, but the live version (captured nicely in 2001 on Live In New York City) far outclasses the overly-stylised studio one here, complete with horrible vocal effects and some pretty wanton guitar soloing from Tom Morello (his new muse, it seems) that risks drowning out Clarence Clemons' saxophone. Similarly, Springsteen's now-classic cover of Suicide's Dream Baby Dream is breath-taking - but the stripped down 2008 12" version with just Bruce on pump organ (recorded live for the Dust Devils solo tour 2005) is infinitely preferable to the full-band version here, all drenched in overdubbed drums and climaxing in treacly strings. The end result actually sounds far less dramatic than it does on the aforesaid 12" version, which I'd urge everyone to check out. There are a couple of partial-exceptions here which seem to have been excused Brendan O'Brien's sonic coup de grâce: The Wall is a rare case in point. Elsewhere, there's too many gimmicky effects (vocal treatments, echoes, distortions), too much studio gloss and it all sounds too self-consciously 'current'. The mix is all wrong; it's submerged in a slick FM lacquer that engulfs Springsteen's voice on half the songs. Not a single rough edge in evidence: this is the sandpapered-down Bruce Springsteen beloved of those who buy their CDs in supermarkets and listen to them mostly in the car. As far I'm concerned, Springsteen has never done anything that's entirely without merit - but I don't envisage myself playing this record much in the years to come, unlike the vast majority of his catalogue. Bear in mind this is coming from a fully-paid up long-time fan, not a detractor. Which makes it doubly troubling for me to say this: I was close to giving it two stars. [Corrections & clarifications: Although I stand by the basic points about the mix and production values I was trying to make in this review, it's since transpired that I was mistaken to refer to Clarence Clemmons being drowned out on 41 Shots (American Skin); Clemmons does appear (posthumously) on two tracks - Harry's Place and Down In The Hole - but not 41 Shots. Similarly Danny Federici also appears posthumously on The Wall and Down In The Hole, but on organ and not trumpet, as I wrongly asserted in the comments section below].
I really bought this version of High Hopes for the bonus DVD so I consider the CD as a bit of an extra! The music on the CD is not bad - nowhere near classic Bruce however - and I'll probably play it a few times before it gets filed away. However the DVD shows Bruce and the E Street Band can still put on a live show like very few other bands can manage!
I saw Bruce and the band on the original Born in the U.S.A. tour at Wembley in July 1985 and it may just be the best live gig I've ever seen; watching the DVD of the concert from the Olympic Park brought back many happy memories of that summers night. If you have been less than impressed by Bruce's recent work this DVD will show you why he is still the Boss live.
The DVD features all the tracks from the Born in the U.S.A. album in track running order and played by as many of the classic E Street Band as are still with us. The line up includes:
The E Street Band:
* Bruce Springsteen - lead vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica
* Roy Bittan - piano, synthesizer
* Charles Giordano - organ, background vocals (replaces the late Danny Federici)
* Nils Lofgren - rhythm guitar, lead guitar, acoustic guitar, background vocals
* Garry Tallent - bass guitar, background vocals
* Soozie Tyrell - violin, acoustic guitar, percussion, background vocals
* Steven Van Zandt - rhythm guitar, lead guitar, mandolin, acoustic guitar, background vocals,
* Max Weinberg - drums
The E Street Horns:
* Jake Clemons - saxophone, percussion, background vocals (nephew of the late Clarence)
* Barry Danielian - trumpet, percussion
* Clark Gayton - trombone, tuba, percussion
* Eddie Manion - saxophone, percussion
* Curt Ramm - trumpet, percussion
The E Street Choir:
* Curtis King - background vocals, tambourine
* Cindy Mizelle - background vocals, tambourine
* Michelle Moore - background vocals, rapping on Rocky Ground
* Everett Bradley - percussion, background vocals
* Adele Springsteen (Bruce's mum comes on stage for "Dancing in the Dark")
* Pamela Springsteen (Bruce's sister sings on "Dancing in the Dark")
If you were at the 2013 concert you've probably bought this already - if you weren't there but like classic Bruce and the E Street Band then buy this limited edition version of High Hopes while it is still available. Five stars for the DVD alone - I'm just sorry I wasn't there myself!
on 7 February 2014
Have recently bought these and have listened to the CD about four times and watched the DVD a couple of times - so this is just first impressions.
Having read a few bad reviews I had low expectations but have been very favourably surprised - this is a very good album. My three favourites at the moment are: High Hopes - I can imagine this is going to be a real crowd pleaser when played live, just hope he comes back to Europe again soon to play it. The Wall - what a beautiful song. The last comes with a health warning, Dream Baby Dream is such a catchy tune that it will be going around and around and around your head for hours on end!
The DVD is great and what Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are all about - you have to experience them live to understand but this DVD gives you a good idea. Born in the USA is one of their best albums, of course, and to see it played live is fantastic. The video of Dancing in the Dark is very moving - but you will have to watch it to see why.
on 14 January 2014
It pains me when fans of the Boss dismiss Human Touch as a rubbish album, and then hail an album such as this as if it were some sort of great comeback when clearly it is not. High Hopes, together with Working On A Dream and Devils And Dust are the three Bruce Springsteen albums I find to be less than average. Really, really weak, at least in comparison to the best of his 21st Century work, and most certainly to that of his first five releases.
I was hoping to be blown away, and to give this album credit, it is better than the other two albums mentioned. The addition of Tom Morello was an incredibly good move: he adds a certain element of charm that makes this a more energetic album than these songs together deserve. It is wonderful to see studio recordings of American Skin (41 Shots) and the full band version of The Ghost Of Tom Joad finally released, and the latter I find to be absolutely fantastic, a wonderful alternative to the highly underrated original (1995's folk-tinged The Ghost Of Tom Joad remains one of Bruce's most challenging and rewarding albums).
But thats all I can recommend it. Two new studio recordings of (admittedly great) old songs. But they are, truth be told, worth purchasing this album for alone. The rest of this release isn't exactly rubbish, and alongside the two aforementioned gems are the two cover versions that open and close the album, High Hopes (originally by the Havalinas) and Dream Baby Dream (originally by protopunks Suicide). The first is sure to become a new live favourite, while the latter is an ethereal ending to this album, an interesting choice, and proof this man has good taste. I also really enjoyed The Wall and the upbeat (if a little throwaway) Frankie Fell In Love. But as an album, High Hopes lacks cohesion and despite knowing already that this is mostly a collection of offcuts from previous releases, it wouldn't be impossible to guess anyway.
And one other thing: Bruce has always been a talented songwriter (I consider him the best ever), and his lyrics are often just as enjoyable as poetry as they are as songs. So why the recent trend to start cursing on albums? Devils And Dust, Working On A Dream and now High Hopes contain use of the f-bomb, and it just isn't necessary, and the song Harry's Place, already a so-so track, really doesn't benefit from its presence. It's unnecessary, and I am sadly convinced many will click "Not Helpful" as a result of this opinion. Well each to their own, but Springsteen built a fine reputation through articulate and intelligent songwriting, and any doubts will be answered with a simple glance at the lyrics of any song off such albums as Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Nebraska, The Ghost Of Tom Joad or Tunnel Of Love. Harry's Place just does not represent the best of his work, and the cursing indicates laziness and not artistic integrity. However, I do wish to clarify that Working On A Dream, Devils And Dust and now High Hopes are not at the bottom of the pack for me based on this reason alone, I simply view them as very weak Springsteen albums.
So yes, to return to how I started, I think it a great shame that many dismiss Human Touch (and its slightly superior companion album, Lucky Town), only to then immediately label High Hopes five stars, as if it somehow matches up to the glorious heights of established classics such as Born To Run or Darkness On The Edge Of Town. High Hopes is not at all a great album. Unlike the other releases made of offcuts and rarities, The Promise and Tracks, this album does not show off an embarrasment of riches, as if an overwhelming flow of talent had recently been bled from the pen and guitar of this Rock Legend. Rather, High Hopes is a bland and safe album of the sort we know Bruce can better, and as a follow up to the surprisingly wonderful Wrecking Ball, High Hopes fails to live up to its title.
I would recommend this new album for the new versions of The Ghost Of Tom Joad and American Skin (41 Shots), and Tom Morello does bring some much needed life to proceedings, but the simple fact is that The Rising, Magic and Wrecking Ball were much better post-2000 Springsteen efforts. Hopefully The Boss still has one more great album left in him, as this is not good enough. Disappointing.
Best Tracks: American Skin (41 Shots), The Ghost Of Tom Joad, The Wall, and Dream Baby Dream
on 15 January 2014
For an album of odds and sods from the recent past, I wasn't expecting a great deal from High Hopes, but it really delivers. 'Frankie Fell In Love' is about as contrived as the weather and 'The Wall' is a real heartbreaker. Tom Morello isn't all over the album as you would think and the production work isn't as cluttered as some reviews have mentioned. Just stick the CD on and it will brighten your day. Well done, Bruce.
on 21 January 2014
I've been a fan of Springsteen for many years and I'm baffled by some of the negative reviews on this site by people who seem to have nothing better to do than pick holes in musical talent. This is one of the most enjoyable CDs I've purchased for a while. The songs, though varied in style and content meld together to create an uplifting album with a rich sound and several spine tingling moments, particularly American Skin, The Ghost of Tom Joad (awesome!) and Dream Baby Dream. Tom Morello's playing is wonderful. This album grabs your attention from the first track with High Hopes and I was certainly not disappointed. I played it on repeat during a long drive to the Far North of Scotland and the music was just as powerful as the landscape around me.