While almost universally the world has accepted Springsteen as a musical legend and a live phenomenon, when it comes to his recorded output, there is a far greater division of opinion. ‘Devils & Dust’, ‘Magic’ and ‘Wrecking Ball’ all had their passionate fans and vehement opponents. Indeed the only album that you could argue has a unanimous legacy, is the abysmal ‘Working On A Dream’. His new album, ‘High Hopes’ should see many agree that it’s an underwhelming effort however when it comes to individual songs there is little consensus.
The title track kicks off with an energy reminiscent of 2012’s ‘Wrecking Ball’. Unfortunately the energy of this cover (originally released on 1995’s ‘Blood Brothers’ EP) is lacking from much of the rest of the disc. As we move on to the second track, ‘Harry’s Place’, the energy dissipates and the whole thing feels a bit pedestrian. The vast chasm between these two tacks reveals the difficulties faced when creating an album of odds and ends.
Gospel singers, strings and Morello’s jagged guitar muddy any consistency on the album and can’t disguise the fact that on many tracks Springsteen’s vocals lack the passion that has made him such a formidable force over the past forty years. ‘Heaven’s Wall’, ‘This Is Your Sword’ and the once-politically relevant ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ all fail to deliver and leave the whole album feeling half-arsed.
Fortunately, Bruce & co manage to put together a few saving graces. The album opener is strong and ‘Just Like Fire Would’ (a cover of The Saints’ 1986 song) fist-pumps its way in to re-energise the album. ‘Frankie Fell In Love’ is a lighthearted romp which bizarrely sounds more sincere than many of The Boss’ vocals on the album. ‘The Ghost Of Tom Joad’ makes the best use of Morello’s guitar and sounds every bit as good now as when it was first released in 1995 (even if Morello’s vocals aren’t as strong as Springsteen’s). Finally, ‘The Wall’, (about his musician Walter Cichon) is another heartfelt ballad that goes some way towards compensating for the try-hard ‘Down In The Hole’.
Springsteen’s devoted fans will still love this album and casual fans will find a couple of fresh favourites. For new listeners however, the inconsistency is unforgivable. Live, these tracks will no doubt burst with energy but on record they belie The Boss’ reputation for cracking music. If you want energy, relevance and powerful music you’d be better catching him live at one of his Australian shows in February this year.