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
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 backstreets.com.
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
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?
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
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
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...
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