By: Emily Jackson
Bruce Springsteen’s newest compilation of songs sounds like a sonic scrapbook of sorts. That’s because it is. For his eighteenth album, the Boss has taken his most recent years of touring, reinventing and sometimes writing and corralled them together under the wishful title “High Hopes.”
The album officially came out today, January 14, 2014, but that doesn’t mean its 12 songs haven’t been roving the Interweb since their leak last month. So far it’s gotten mixed reviews but, with more than a dozen legendary albums under his belt, we think the man has earned the right to do what he wants. Especially when It just so happens that what he wants is totally satisfactory.
This new album groups together cover songs, previously unrecorded material and reinterpreted versions of Springsteen’s latest standbys. If I were a bit more cynical, I might question it. I might think, is he really so far into his career that the only way to make something new is to present a shinier version of something old? Aren’t there a couple more gloriously cohesive, 100% new albums left in New Jersey’s golden boy?
Cynicism aside, though, the songs seem to represent all the bits and pieces that make a Springsteen tour stop so incredibly special. Before now, songs like “American Skin” were more or less concert-exclusive material. Now that there’s a studio version of them, we can all enjoy the unbridled energy of a live E Street jam session, in our cars, in our headphones and in our homes.
If you’re looking for another Wrecking Ball from Bruce and his E Street Band, High Hopes falls short. At first, the individual songs seem too disparate and the hodgepodge of production techniques might even seem nonsensical. But then you listen to the lyrics, wherein the Springsteen magic always lies, and find the recurring themes. “High Hopes represents a final departure from the escapism that dominated Springsteen’s first couple of go-rounds as a songwriter, mixing a few last sputters of injustice-driven rage with a cacophony of instrumental flourishes. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine provides a number of guitar solos on the album that E Street probably could’ve done without.
Overall, these songs are absolutely better live and I’ll definitely be tuning into Jimmy Fallon tonight in hopes of seeing them that way. And that’s a good thing. If I were a sexagenarian Springsteen, fixing to set off on 2014 world tour, I’d be more concerned if the studio versions could even begin to compete with the live ones. But does that mean this material should never be recorded? I don’t think so…