Artist /// Bruce Springsteen
Album /// High Hopes
Label /// Columbia
Release Date /// 14 January 2014
5.4 | 10
Bruce Springsteen is at the point in his career where all he has to do is release albums like High Hopes to maintain his position as one of rock ‘n roll’s living legends. As with any artist gaining notoriety in the 1970s, his career has seen its ups-and-downs, albeit many more ups. In fact, it was 30 years ago that he released the zeitgeist-capturing Born in the U.S.A. that made him one of pop music’s biggest stars. His 2000s output, beginning with The Rising, has been defined by its rather uninventive structures and cliché-riddled lyricism. He is still capable of drawing large audiences and remains the voice of the working class, but by now, do we really need 12 tracks worth of outtakes to make that statement true?
The opener and title-track is by far the best thing here, with its defiant horn section adding a burst of adrenaline as Springsteen finally sounds like a man in his 60s, which is definitely not a bad thing. But for too much of High Hopes, The Boss appears adamant against showing his age. The appearance of Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello is meant to add a layer of grit to the proceedings, but instead the intentions of his addition are fully exposed from the get-go.
The weariness that emanates from Springsteen’s delivery in “High Hopes” goes unmatched during the rest of the album, and it negatively impacts the ensuing 11 tracks. Now 40-plus years into his career, it would be unreasonable to expect much of a deviation from the norm by Springsteen. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, the old adage goes, and one in which Springsteen adheres to to a fault. The problem is there is something inherently broken about this album.
“Frankie Fell In Love” is the type of song that even dad’s would be embarrassed to play their children, mostly due to it being not far removed from a Bon Jovi b-side. “Dream Baby Dream” has a message one could possibly find in a Hallmark store, and the vocals are delivered without a hint of irony or despair.
This is all made frustrating because deep down there are some good moments here that could have been highlights in Springsteen’s illustrious career. He knows now that all dreams come with a side of nightmare, but he is far too insistent to let reality thwart his message. We all have high hopes for the future, but most of us know that to make some quantifiable gain, we’ve got to give up just as much.