Seeing as 95 percent of the College’s student body comes from New Jersey, I’m going to assume I don’t need to give too much (or any) background information on who Bruce Springsteen is.
Springsteen’s latest album, “High Hopes,” is a collection of unreleased songs (and three covers) stemming back to around 2000.
While many of the featured songs were previously recorded to a certain extent, the album completes these recordings. Other than a few extra studio musicians, longtime backing musicians, The E Street Band, are on full display here.
The unfortunate part of a compilation of unreleased songs is that nearly all of them turn out to be filler tracks.
“Just Like Fire Would” — a track originally by the Australian group The Saints — “Heaven’s Wall,” “Frankie Fell in Love” and “This Is Your Sword” are all OK tracks, nothing magical about them.
Knowing Springsteen, I’m sure they will become awesome songs when played live, as all of his songs do.
But frankly, these songs were unreleased for a reason — they just don’t hold up to Springsteen’s released catalogue.
The album’s leadoff single, “High Hopes,” suffers the same fate. A cover of a song by bluesman Tim Scott McConnell that Bruce originally recorded for his “Blood Brothers” EP back in 1995, this blues-rocker is meant for the stage. It suffers from studio polish and a lack of audience energy.
The album also contains three ballads — “Hunter of Invisible Game,” “The Wall” and “Dream Baby Dream” (covering the protopunk Suicide). They’re all nice songs, but they aren’t the most memorable of tunes.
Rage Against the Machine guitar legend Tom Morello is all over this record, after having joined Springsteen’s touring band last year to cover longtime guitarist Steve Van Zandt (who took time off to film his Netflix mob series “Lilyhammer”).
What should be a revitalizing shot of modern guitar playing just ends up being a lot of slightly awkward “signature Tom Morello DJ-guitar sounds” appearances. Morello takes two solos on the electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (originally off of Springsteen’s 1996 acoustic album of the same name) but it’s just a recreation of more fiery live collaboration we’ve heard quite a few times on the past couple of tours.
One of my major disappointments with Springsteen’s last album, “Wrecking Ball,” was the destruction of the live classic, “Land of Hopes and Dreams.” On the current album, Springsteen does the same to “American Skin (41 Shots).”
Both of these songs were previously only released on live albums such as “Live in New York City,” where they stood as simple, haunting and beautiful anthems dealing with different perspectives on death.
Their album versions are over-produced to the point of losing nearly all of their intimacy, with the instrumental performances cold and stiff.
“Down in the Hole” would have to be the sole standout track on the album for me. Taking a minimalistic approach, the song showcases haunting vocal performances from Bruce, his wife Patti Scialfa, and some very atmospheric backing vocals from his three children (recorded when they were much younger).
The icing on the cake is a simple yet soulful Hammond B3 organ solo from the late, great Danny Federici.
“High Hopes” is a collection of over-produced, semi-heartless performances of filler tracks. What saves this album from being a complete waste is that it guarantees us another Bruce Springsteen tour, which is where we really want to see the Boss.