Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

When Bruce Springsteen releases a new album, it's news in New Jersey. So we here at Jersey Beat didn't want to assign the review to just one person. Instead we put together a panel of five diehard Bruce Springsteen fans, and let them discuss the record's merits and failures. Our panel includes

Jim Testa, Editor of Jersey Beat
Michael Mantovani, Lead Singer of The Everymen
Jamie Frey, Lead Singer of The Brooklyn What and Jersey Beat columnist
Stephen Gritzan, owner of Iris Records and Jersey Beat columnist
Zac Coe - Lead singer of The All-About, college radio DJ, and Jersey Beat writer

Jim: I'll start. The biggest challenge of High Hopes is that it's an ‘odd and sods’ album of old songs and obscure covers tricked up to look and sound like a new album. The biggest problem, to me, is Tom Morello, whose signature wha-wha whammy-bar guitar solos take the classic-rock sound of the E Street in weird directions. The first half of the album sounds like 70's stripper bar music, the second half has too many weak moments. What's your overall take on the album, and what did Springsteen either get right or get wrong?

Michael Mantovani: Right. I hate to have the first thing I discuss is the marketing of the record, but I think it put me in the wrong place when listening the first few times. To be honest I didn't know this was an odds and sods record, as you said, until late last week. I guess I need to be better about checking But in listening, I thought it was a proper record. And in that regard, as much as I hate to say, it's a bad record. Had I known the concept of the content, perhaps I would have listened to the record critically differently. Other than dream baby dream - which as we know isn't a bruce song, there's not a single tent pole track on this album. All I kept thinking was, "this sounds like Rock Solid" ... You know ... The band from Eddie And The Cruisers 2... And this coming from a guy who counts Bruce as his all time favorite.

Zac Coe: As an odds and sods record, High Hopes is definitely a weird one. Also coming from a guy who counts Bruce as his all time favorite, this a bad record. Bruce has an overwhelming amount of truly great non-album tracks. You could take groups of 12 songs from either The Promise or Tracks and, without any repeats, arrive at at least half a dozen better albums than High Hopes. The fact that it is essentially a collection of recent outtakes does not excuse the quality of the record. It just makes it a bad collection of recent outtakes. I'd agree with Jim that one of the biggest offenders here is Tom Morello. I really appreciate the extent to which he appears to energize Bruce, but his playing feels gimmicky and out of place on a Bruce record. His skittery wah solo on the title track really sonically clashes with the groove and the horns and ruins, for me, what would otherwise be a really solid tune. Unlike (from what I've read) a lot of other Bruce fans, I am a big fan of the full-band arrangement of "The Ghost of Tom Joad." I think it's heavy and awesome. That being said, the studio version loses all its impact for me when Morello starts making all those helicopter sounds and stuff in the last two minutes of the track. That sort of thing is exciting in a live setting but really off-putting on a record.

I'd also add that the production is really strange. The album feels rushed. With all the weird patchwork drum loops, decent songs like "Down in the Hole" feel really cobbled together. The vocals on "Heaven's Wall" sound like reference vocals that Bruce never bothered to re-record. Wrecking Ball also felt rushed, but that was at least somewhat understandable because of the urgency and relevance of the album's themes. Why the urgency here?

Every album Bruce has produced since The Rising makes its predecessor look better. High Hopes makes Wrecking Ball seem decent, Working on a Dream seem good, Magic seem great, and The Rising seem like a masterpiece.

I think I read a theory somewhere that High Hopes is just Bruce trying to run out his contract with Columbia. Is there any merit to that theory?

Michael Mantovani: Good point Zac. I could easily find 11 songs on The Promise that'd make a better record than this. Of course that era was Bruce in his songwriting prime and here we have a late-career artist who - whether or not he actually is - sounds like he is simply trying to fulfill his obligation to Columbia. I was shocked when I first heard about a new Bruce record. It seems like Wrecking Ball is still a new record in many ways. But whereas Wrecking Ball had heart and purpose, High Hopes sounds more like a quickly stitched patchwork than something that actually means something to Bruce. Ignoring the merit of his other albums, this is the first Bruce record that sounds like he just didn't mean it.And just when you thought Bruce may have made the worst artistic decision of his career (the rap verse on Wrecking Ball), he puts out a record laden with Tom Morello's annoying guitar.

Jim Testa: We've got a few people who haven't weighed in yet but the overwhelming consensus seems to be that this album is a disappointment. So what, if anything, works? Is there anything here you'd put on a Bruce mixtape? I think one of the most disappointing aspects of High Hopes - one that suggests, as Zac did, that Springsteen just wasn't trying very hard here - is that the two most familiar songs, "Ghost of Tom Joad" and "41 Shots," both have superior versions elsewhere. Handing half of “Tom Joad” to Morello doesn't improve it when he also gets to ruin the vibe with a hairmetal guitar solo, and the live version of "41 Shots" seemed much more powerful than the one here.

Stephen Gritzan: While I've ignored Springsteen for years, I have solid, serious ties to his music. Green seats at MSG 1978, 2nd row on the "Tunnel Of Love" tour (my favorite album of his), most of my friends seemed to have played pool with him (supposedly). Bruce no longer speaks much to me, but I certainly know his power as a live performer---and the recent UK concert reviews affirmed this. Of course the rock world awaits his new album, and with new musical mates, it's all the buzz, isn't it? But to me, "High Hopes" comes off as spotty and lacking cohesion. His sound is all trite white gospel and blues, with half of the title track being the chorus, over and over and over. For the most part, the songwriting is simply not up-to-par, and I've always thought of Springsteen as being a fine songwriter. But more than half of the songs are completely forgettable and that was a big surprise.

And I miss the Bruce of "I walked like Brando right into the sun" days. But for me, Springsteen is about my youth, not the present, so that may explain my reaction. Of course I am being overly harsh, and there are lovely moments on this record: the 70s-Bruce energy of "Frankie Fell In Love" and the stark beauty of "The Wall." I liked some of the sampling and guitar treatments as they drag Bruce away from the E Street Band trad sound. But I found the listening process totally tedious and exhausting. There's a pomposity to his music now, a preachiness, an assumption that I need him to point out EVERY LITTLE THING . And do I really have to hear "41 Shots" again? (I agree with one thing. Maybe this is a "filler LP" to finish off his contract. Sounds like it.)

Jamie Frey: It's a possibility that I don't hate this record as much as anybody else. Let me preface this by saying that I used to hate Bruce Springsteen. Growing up on 90's alternative rock, I had the idea that Bruce was a dated, jingoistic and corny artist. Hearing "41 Shots" and these leftovers from "The Rising," reminded me that Bruce Springsteen was someone I made fun of until I was about 19 or 20 and a girl I had a crush on played me "Rosalita" and told me it was the best song ever written.

That being said, this should be a b-side collection and it would seem way less goofy than calling this a studio album in his canon. Not all Bruce's records are great, but this is definitely among his more ham-handed collections. I actually kind of dig Tom Morello's guitar playing, but I do kind of hate the really cheesy Rising style production. "The Rising", when it came out I thought was the dopiest album ever, a non-statement about 9/11 in that really saccharine, ban-everything from the radio era of music that kind of killed rock n' roll for a minute (my high school agit-prop punk band actually did a snarky cover of the title track.) I realize that with Bruce, sometimes goofy production hides great songwriting and that record has aged must better under than notion.

This album, I think mostly is missing the organic E Street Band fire underneath Bruce, it's "radio-ready" production at this point is like trying to make something sound like it sound natural in a K Mart, and it sounds more like the "other band" era, I don't heard Max or Gary on most of these tracks. "Dream Baby Dream" is cool, but the live version is way cooler. The "Tom Joad" also, really kills live, Tom Morello bringing me to tears, they should have just used a live version. I legitimately like The Saints cover, and these punk covers definitely redeem the record to some degree. The title track is kind of like a Tom Waits sort of thing, minus the edge of Tom Waits, but still enjoyable. "Harry's Place" is kind of weird, and though it's not good, at least it's a little weird, it's pretty easy for Bruce to write elevator music when he stop giving a shit (see the whole '90s.) "Down In The Hole" sounds like "I'm On Fire" and I'm a sucker for that rim click, synth pad kind of sound. "Raise Your Hand" is definitely silly, but this is the kind of thing I'm used to hearing on new Bruce records, however, it does kind of sound like "Dancing Barefoot" by Patti Smith.

I agree with Mikey that that this album confirms how consistent Wrecking Ball is... minus the dumb rap and Christian Rock production. Ultimately, Bruce deserves some credit, he's kind of like Woody Allen, his late game has had plenty of misses but there's always SOMETHING there to hold onto. For the past 25 years, it's been more about the show than the records, and I'd like to hear more of the show IN the records. I think most people would...

Bruce has aged a lot better than most people of his generation. He stands among the most important artists TODAY based on how much he means to people and that he is the best stage performer in Rock n' Roll ALIVE. A full length Bruce record should be better than this, maybe he is trying to get out of his record contract and start to release indie records like Pearl Jam or something... now THAT would be cool. This is no "Born To Run", but it's definitely way better than "A Bigger Bang" or some cash cow, lazy Bruce is still pretty hard working... is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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