Thursday, January 23, 2014, Thursday With The Boss: Part 18 - High Hopes

The announcement, on November 25th, 2013, of this album's impending arrival was a bit of a surprise. The "rumor mill" had mutterings that the E-Street Band had gone into the studio while touring Australia with Tom Morello standing in for Little Steven Van Zandt.

It was only a few weeks between the announcement of the new album, and release of the title single, and when the album dropped on January 14th, 2014.

I was excited, as I am always excited with a new Springsteen release. That said, the format this project shaped up to be was a little disappointing to me. The are relatively few "new" Springsteen compositions on the record, unreleased leftovers from projects reaching back to The Rising. I am a big fan of this sort of thing, and Springsteen's Tracks box set, a hodge-podge of alternate takes and leftover songs from the first 20 years, or so, of his career, is pretty much on constant rotation for me.

The rest of the tracks consist of covers and Springsteen compositions that are pretty familiar to fans. Songs that have become associated with Morello's "special guest" guitar work. Again, I'm a fan of what Morello's guitar work brings to the E-Street mix. I know a lot of people aren't (Hello Matt K), but I dig it, and Morello's presence at the Wrigley Field shows was a true highlight. The first time I heard a recording of Morello sitting in with the band for The Ghost of Tom Joad, my mind was blown. It still is, every time I hear it live. I was excited to see what Morello would bring to the recording studio.

Thing is, I simply wish that, instead of billing High Hopes as "The NEW Springsteen Album," the record had gone out as a (much) briefer version of Tracks. A way to clear some good numbers off the shelf that Bruce wanted to get out to the public, but didn't fit with the original albums they were written for. Harry's Place, aside from sounding too much (title-wise) like Mary's Place, is a pretty damn cool track, and it has no place on a powerful, directed statement like The Rising album. So, I'm happy to hear it released, and I really like what Morello added. Likewise, The Wall is a really fantastic number about the Vietnam Memorial. I'm over the moon that's it's available to me in high quality, but the connective tissue is tenuous for what I've come to expect from a "New Springsteen Album."

I think the most disappointing thing is the studio versions of tracks that are widely available in live versions. American Skin (41 Shots), one of Springsteen's absolute best protest songs, has a live, and definitive, version on Live in New York City. What Bruce cooks up in the studio simply can't touch what was captured at Madison Square Garden.

The Morello-fied The Ghost of Tom Joad is great, but it's pretty much the exact same arrangement (and guitar solo) that could be found on the Magic Tour Highlights download released to support the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund. Frankly, the energy and power of the live version is not captured in the studio version.

Not to beat a dead horse, but again, if you want the definitive version of Bruce's cover of Suicide's Dream Baby Dream, with The Boss solo on a small pump organ, it's right here. (Side note: I was actually in the house when he played this song for the first time on the Devils and Dust tour at the Rosemont Theatre - it closed every remaining show of that tour, and it was an amazing, stunning performance) Adding more musicians doesn't add to the power of the song, and the intimate feeling I had with Bruce the 3-4 times I saw it performed live. The studio version simply doesn't add anything.

Lest it seem like I HATE this album, or something, there is lots to like here. The three tracks above are all good and listenable, but simply unneeded. The Wall is worth the whole purchase, and I've really taken to the title track (written by Tim Scott McConnell) and the Just Like Fire Would (written by Chris J. Bailey) covers.

Nothing here is "bad," it just doesn't coalesce into what my expectations (admittedly high) are of a "New Springsteen Album."

After receiving my (early - I feel so important! ;-) ) copy of Kathy Zimmer's latest Static Inhabited (which you should download RIGHT NOW - it's terrific), I immediately reached out to tell her how much I loved the song order. I felt weird, honestly, after I sent seems like faint praise, "yeah, the songs are in a nice order." Thing is, what I was trying to get at is that her record felt like a unified whole, with a flow of music that took me on a journey. That's how I feel about pretty much every Springsteen album.

High Hopes doesn't make it, and it's really just because of my expectations of a "New Springsteen Album," if I'm honest with myself. If the marketing had placed it as what it truly is, a collection of leftovers and sundries that are absolutely worthwhile, but aren't a unified vision, I'd probably be singing this record's praises.

Favorite Tracks
High Hopes
Harry's Place
Just Like Fire Would
The Wall

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