Bruce Springsteen Song Review: “High Hopes”

Bruce Springsteen

“High Hopes”

high hopes

Ever wonder what Bruce Springsteen bottoming out looks like?  Here it is ladies and gentleman.  “High Hopes”, the lead single from Springsteen’s album of the same name, is an abomination for a number of reasons.  But before taking The Boss to task, let me give you a little background on the upcoming album.  High Hopes, the album, is essentially a b-sides collection of material re-recorded with various members of The E Street Band, along with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame taking the place of LxL favorite Steven Van Zandt on eight of the twelve tracks.  Other artists have worked this formula fairly well, but if “High Hopes” is any indication, Springsteen is going to have far less success with a common formula.

So with that brief indictment of an upcoming record I have never heard in its completion in hand, let’s focus more on the one track we have before us, “High Hopes”.  “High Hopes” was originally released on Spingsteens 1995 EP Blood Brothers.  The original version may not be among the most celebrated songs released in Springsteen’s long career, but it is a perfectly enjoyable jaunt in the lyrical vein of Tom Waits.  So to recap: the song has already been released, and the song is good (even by the standards of someone who isn’t a big fan of The Boss). Go ahead and check out the original recording below.

With all that being said, I have no idea why “High Hopes” needed to be retooled.  Tom Morello, who hasn’t brought much to the table post-Rage, gives the guitar work a different look. Morello is just not a fit for what Springsteen typically tries to do, and his panache is lost against the blaring horn section, making “High Hopes” sound more like a Dave Matthews d-side than a Bruce Springsteen b-side.  The horns are overbearing to the point of insanity, especially when listening to the two versions back to back.  More than anything, Springsteen removed layer after finely tuned layer, to make the track annoyingly bombastic, and also very cookie-cutter.

I have no earthly idea why Bruce would make this trash heap his lead single to usher in a whole new audience to some of his older material.  Maybe it is because “High Hopes” is one of his more recognizable b-sides.  Maybe he didn’t make that decision for himself.  And maybe Springsteen has decided to completely punt this album.  Either way, it is a track to avoid.

2/11

10 comments

  • Agree not one of his finest. 2″s a bit harsh. I might go 5. No more though.

    • Austin

      I think if I wasn’t familiar with the original and didn’t know of its existence, I would have marked it a little higher. Thanks for the input.

  • Euan

    2/11?!! I’ll give you it’s not “The River” but it’s a good song, filled with energy. I think it’ll work brilliantly as live showcase for the brilliant E Street horn section.

  • Hot Steppin'

    Your review is filled with false presuppositions, which makes your review worthless. Indeed, it smacks of someone who not only does not like, or ‘get’ Springsteen, but has little historical knowledge of the Boss’ artistic vision.

    Why is Tom Morello not a good fit? You assert, you don’t explain. Cookie cutter? Lol. Who else, where, can you find such a sound?

    Springsteen never just releases something or “punts” his albums. He has full control of what he does. (of course he has earned this position, not every fledgling artist has this level control over his work vis a vis the record company). The reason he reworked this song is because he feels very close to it’s meaning and lyrics and commentary on American society today. Race, kids being murdered, guns, corruption and constant divisiveness and chatter noise. If you look at how this album is comprised, you will see a logical flow of ‘message’ in it–from 41 Shots to the Ghost of Tom Joad to the Wall to Dream Baby Dream. Bruce obviously felt such seminal work as 41 Shots needed studio cuts for posterity. I certainly can’t disagree with him. Especially after what he performed live years back comes to fruition again (see 41 Shots)

    High Hopes SOUNDS great– the singular voice and the one off jamming with Morello, and finally, the topical meaning of the great songs will probably be evident throughout. It’s going to be a really nice musical and guitar driven disc to play–and it will mean something by its thread of artistry linking the collection. This is more than ‘formula’ or ‘cookie cutter’. In fact, few have the vision cred capable of making something like this stand on it’s own.

    Your blog–that’s what it is after all–review: 2/10.

    • Austin

      I appreciate your feedback. I’ll first respond by saying that, no, I do not particularly like Bruce Springsteen, but I don’t think that clouds my judgment on his music. I feel much the way about Springsteen as I do about Bono. Both artists have released some truly transcendent music that I fully appreciate and enjoy.

      But both artists have had ridiculous eras of preening in the images they have created for themselves. Old Bruce Springsteen still trying to be some sort of sex symbol for the working class in his tight jeans and leather coat is an image that needs to be retired.

      So, yes, you are right in asserting I don’t like Bruce Springsteen. But, I very much so like some of his music as I made very clear in my support of the original recording of “High Hopes”. There is a bouncy energy to the original that can be savored. So, why redo it? Does changing the arrangement some and adding Tom Morello to the mix make it any more pertinent to the state of affairs in today’s world? I say no. Can you honestly tell me you think the new version is better? If so, I would say you are probably just a Boss fanboy with whom there is no reasoning.

      I hope the rest of the album turns out better, and made the point that “High Hopes” is merely a bad sign of things to come. You say “41 Shots” deserves a studio cut? Well, there already is one. Its hard to find, but there is one. “41 Shots” is at least a much different case than “High Hopes”, which was released on an EP that most serious Bruce fans (and also less serious Bruce fans like myself) already own.

      I don’t think I need to explain why Tom Morello is not a fit for Bruce Springsteen. Its intuitive. You probably liked the Metallica and Lou Reed record though. Thanks again for the feedback, and I hope you read more, but judging by the 2/10 review, I guess I probably shouldn’t hold my breath. Cheers.

  • Hot Steppin'

    I get it–you have a PERSONAL problem here. A problem WITH BRUCE’S IMAGE, an apriori position going into the listening of this single, or pretty much everything he puts out. That sounds like a personal problem; I’m sorry you have this and can’t sort through this.

    I will try to add this however: Bruce Springsteen can be 95 years old and still wear a leather jacket and jeans and pull it off. One, there is nothing wrong with that. Two, that “look” is fundamentally who he is. Three, he will still look cool.

    And yes, I TRULY THINK THIS VERSION IS BETTER. Why is that so hard to warp your head around? (Tell me after you play it loud in your car). I like horns (you don’t, apparently) I like distorted guitar and the intense global rhythm (you don’t) of this version. If I were to choose which version to play, I’d take this one with me .

    Not only for its sound but for its MEANING. As I tried to point out previously, this version is live and immediate as to where Bruce is right now artistically. The ’95 version is listenable but it is a reflection of a very ambivalent Bruce, not even sure if he wanted to get the E Street Band back together. Watch the documentary Blood Brothers to understand that ambivalence.

    And by the way, a studio cut of 41 Shots was indeed recorded–but never released. This does not make it “available.” I am referring to an official, artist-sanctioned studio release of the instant classic song known to 99 percent of the listening audience only through its live rendition on stage. A seven minute studio recording has now been given to us, thankfully, in the smoldering mix and heat of the moment of touring and contemporary news expressive of its relevance. Yes, I am especially looking forward to it after the sound of the High Hopes single.

    I myself have never listened to the Lou Reed/Metallica album, so sorry, that gentle jibe does not apply. But I will explain here why the comparison is not an apt one. Again, you fail to explain musically why Morello does not “fit for what Springsteen typically tries to do” (whatever that means–the word “typically” being the biggest part of the verbal mystery). Hasn’t the last decade of various musical avenues, let alone the projects of thirty years prior, taught you the futility of this word? Morello idolized Springsteen–he covered and made a hit out of The Ghost of Tom Joad. Springsteen likes the political moxy and folk music of Morello and the Nightwatchman. Springsteen likes the folk music tradition, he himself is part of it. Morello appeals to Springsteen and his love for the folk tradition and folk music. Springsteen and Morello joined onstage together several years back (2008) and like to play together. Have you seen ever seen a Springsteen concert? There is not “preening” but some all-out rock-n-roll immersion that takes place. There is a lot of guitar playing. Morello adds to this element in a fashion that Springsteen admires and chooses to apply an extra stylistic edge to particular songs. Springsteen and Morello both came off political participation at the start of this tour and in Austin, they now have finished it in Australia. These musicians have a political passion and a musical chemistry going on right NOW. The single and album are coming out of this chemistry right NOW, now from ’95 but NOW, from the road. Springsteen wants to lay down this chemistry on disc. Yes, there is a natural fit, and there is a LOGIC to what is now being presented to us with High Hopes. If Springsteen doesn’t work with others and take musical chances like what we are witnessing, then critics of your ilk complain. If he does do exactly this, then critics of your ilk, well, they still complain. Why? Not because he is not a “good fit.” But because they hate on Bruce Springsteen (I always wonder if this would sstill be the case if the solo artist Springsteen was instead just part of a rock group simply called “The E Street Band” or something, but that is another topic. As Bob Dylan has said, Springsteen is the one who comes to his mind among rockers that has grabbed the bull by its horns in the old school way and presented himself as an solo act with his backing band, with no pretension otherwise.

    So yes, I like the new version of the song High Hopes better. Dismissing someone as “fanboy” for this is like me telling you that you are incabable of evaluating major artists’ work because you “don’t like Bruce Springsteen.” This new song comes out, with a blistering sound and rhythmic drive, and you post a blog almost immediatley that declares Bruce Springsteen “has bottomed out.” Misleading is an understatement, but now its a Google review search misleading statement. If you saw a show of the last tour, (which I’m almost certain you didn’t), you would recognize the ridiculous, attention-grabbing nature of such a headline. For your education (and hopefully your readers), please read an alternative interpretation of the song at:

    http://ultimateclassicrock.com/bruce-springsteen-high-hopes-song-review/

    Or is this reviewer also to be dismissed as a “fanboy”?

    If you can’t get past your personal problem involving the album cover, perhaps it may help to understand that you take Bruce (or Bono’s) “preening” way to seriously. He. Is. A. Rock. Star. For the true-blood rags to riches rockers not affected fundamentally by wealth or fame this doesn’t just die out or “retire.” The look is part of rock music. This isn’t classical music, or rocket science. Perhaps in time you will appreciate there ain’t no sin in growing old and striving to feel young, as well as being glad you’re alive. For your edification into this apparently offensive look of a leather jacket and jeans from a 64 year old, and your elucidation into the choice of album cover, perhaps you may want to consider Andy Wharhol’s “Elvis” (1963).

    Happy Thanksgiving. And thanks, Bruce, for the cool new music (and cover).

  • It’s not life changing, but I do like Morello’s guitar line, adds something different that you wouldn’t expect on a song of this nature. Bit of a harsh review to my mind, but having said that, each to their own.

  • Rick

    You don’t know what a b-side actually is, apparently, and if you think High Hopes is lyrically akin to Tom Waits….um…what the fuck?

  • With all due respect to you Austin, what relevance or merit do so called reviewers have when grading or assessing the work of an artist with the history and achievements of a Bruce Springsteen? Won a Oscar or two Mr Bernstein? Collected more Grammys than U2, Madonna an MJ put together? Written any decent songs lately?…i mean really!!
    The notation that an artist of Springsteen’s calibre can be reviewed is silly! Reviewed? By who?…You???
    Anyway, album is gorgeous, the last 4 songs in particular are just sublime.

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