I just don't get it: Almost 30 years since I first woke up to Bruce he's still releasing albums with songs that give me more than anyone else. This, IMHO, is one of his best; the only track I would leave off, if I had to, is Frankie Fell In Love and even that's pretty good (sounds like an outtake from the Born In The USA sessions). To be honest I was a bit worried when I first read about High Hopes as it sounded like it might be a rag bag of old songs that had been re-vamped with the, almost, ever present Tom Morello contributing. WRONG! This whole album is cohesive with some massively awseome standouts. The Ghost Of Tom Joad is given a fantastic rock treatment, with blistering guitar solos. Harry's Place has a fabulous pumping groove and The Wall is Bruce at his most affecting. American Skin (already a classic, but only heard previously as a live track) is just about as good as Bruce gets. Wonderful! Really, really wonderful!
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.