Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Quick Takes: High Hopes (OB)



So after listening to High Hopes for a full week I find myself fairly underwhelmed by the album, but still listening to it.  Like most people who have reviewed the album, I'm fairly split on my opinions of it.  What's good, ("Just Like Fire Would" and "Hunter of Invisible Game") is great.  Some of Bruce's best stuff since Magic.  But what's bad ("41 Shots" and "Harry's Place") is pretty abysmal.

Before I break it down, track by track, a little bit on the background of this album.  This has to be the least hyped Bruce album of recent memory.  I saw very little press coverage to promote this album.  Most of my friend's didn't even know Bruce released a new album until his fantastic appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.  Granted, they aren't Bruce fanatics like Rory, Steve and myself but they are casual fans nonetheless.  Hell, even I had to keep reminding myself in the weeks leading up to the release that Bruce had a new album coming out.  Fortunately, due to a fanatical fanbase and his great appearance on Fallon, it seems Bruce is about to score his 11th Number 1 album in the United States.  He's already Number 1 in the UK, and a number of other European countries.

And now, the tracks...

1.  "High Hopes"-  Not a fan of this at all.  I loved both lead singles from Working On A Dream and Wrecking Ball ("My Lucky Day" and "We Take Care Of Our Own", respectively).  In the end, I found the albums did not live up to the excitement I had for the album.  So now I've got a lackluster lead single, on an album that has minimal promotion...not the best start to an album.  Rating:1.5/5

2.  "Harry's Place"-  Complete and utter crap.  This might top "57 Channels" as my least favorite song ever released.  Like Steve said in his review, the song is a completely out of left field and very much in the style of Dire Straights.  So kudos to Bruce for experimenting, and trying something new.  Now, never do a song like this again.  The only plus of this song, is the posthumous work of Clarence Clemmons.  Rating: 0.5/5... and it's not even the worst song on the album...

3.  "41 Shots (American Skin)"-  This song has been written about numerous times on this blog so I won't get into the background of this song, and I'll just review it.  The song is one of Bruce's most controversial, but to me the live release from Live In New York City, is one of Bruce's most powerful performance.  Unfortunately all of that emotion is lost on this studio version.  I really liked when  "American Land" and "Land of Hope and Dreams" got studio treatment on Wrecking Ball and they were welcome additions to the Springsteen Library.  This version is not.  It's overproduced and loses all the emotion of the Live In New York City version.  It's the worst song on the album, and if it weren't for the iconic live album version, this would go down as Bruce's worst work, in my opinion.  Rating: 0/5

This is not a good start to the album...

4.  "Just Like Fire Would"-  Just when I was ready to call this Bruce's worst album ever, "Just Like Fire Would" saved it.  Not only saved it but completely revived it.  A cover of a song I've never heard, by a group I've never heard of, and it's one of Bruce's top 5 songs of recent memory.  This song will bring the house down, and in my opinion, get the "Waiting On A Sunny Day" and "Shackled And Drawn" treatment in the set list for the upcoming live shows to really get the crowd going and into the show.  Rating: 5/5.  This song alone, saved this album.

5.  "Down In The Hole"-  I don't hate this song, but I hate where it's placed on the album.  After getting all pumped up from "Just Like Fire Would", this really brings me down.  It's a good song, reminds me a lot of "World's Apart" from The Rising, but it just should be somewhere else on the album.  It's far from perfect though, and is another song that suffers from overproduction.  Rating: 2.5/5.

6.  "Heaven's Wall"- Rocky Ground 2.0.  That's the best description of this song that I can come up with.  It's got a very gospel, spiritual feeling to the song.  Also it's an average song, that was really improved upon when performed live on Fallon.  This song will be a staple of the set list on the upcoming live shows, and probably even get a primo spot in the encore.  Rating 3/5.

7.  "Frankie Fell In Love"-  If another artist wrote this song it would sound like a novelty song.  But this short, up tempo rocker, with some of the sweetest, most over the top (in a good way) lyrics is a fantastic song.  Bruce falls back on a trademark of giving a gender-confusing-name to the main character of the song, but then tries something new with including historical figures in a fictional manner in this song.  In this case it's Shakespeare and Einstein discussing the practicality of the beloved Frankie finding the man of her dreams.  Frankie Fell In Love, and so will you...with this song.  Rating 4/5.

8.  "This Is Your Sword"-  With a very Celtic-like sounding intro, I can't help but think Bruce's work with The Dropkick Murphy's rubbed off on him in this song.  Another solid song on this album, with a great sound and lyrics.  It's missing a slight something that I can't put my finger on.  That keeps it from being an elite song but it's still a very good song.  Rating 3.5/5.

9.  "Hunter Of Invisible Game"-  As much as I praised "Just Like Fire Would", with each listen of this track I start to rethink that maybe this is the best song on the album.  I don't know, but both are great and completely different.  I cannot wait to be singing along with Bruce on this somber, acoustic ballad in the (hopefully) upcoming US tour.  Also, this is some of the finest lyrics Bruce has ever written on a metaphoric level.  "Hunter of Invisible Game" should be a regular used term in the English vernacular.  Rating: 5/5.

GREAT run of songs...

10.  "The Ghost Of Tom Joad"-  Like "41 Shots", I'm just going to assume you know the history of this song.  In a nutshell, Bruce wrote it in 1996, released it, Rage Against The Machine covered it, and Bruce has been playing it with Tom Morello on a regular basis since.  The original acoustic is very good, Rage's cover stinks, but Bruce playing it with Tom Morello, takes the original and turns it up to 11 to create pure magic.  It's not like live versions of "Atlantic City" or "Youngstown" where the song gets changed. "Ghost Of Tom Joad" is still the same song basically, but just so much more powerful with Morello, when performed live.  Unfortunately, it loses a lot of that power in the studio.  Not nearly as much as "41 Shots", but it's just not the same.  Rating: 2.5/5.

11.  "The Wall"-  This song is just really forgettable, in my opinion.  Sounds like a song left off of Devils and Dust which wasn't that great of an album to start with.  I am not going to lie, I end up skipping this song most times.  Not out of hatred like other songs, but just boredom.  Rating 1/5.

12. "Dream Baby Dream"-  This one hurts.  There was a time I said this was Bruce's best cover.  I've since changed my mind and given that title to "Long Black Veil".  But still "Dream Baby Dream" is a close second.  The live version, from the Devils and Dust Tour that is.  Unfortunately, like all the other studio version's of live songs on this album, it just doesn't stand up.  The live version has this beautiful desperation of Bruce sitting at the organ and repeating the same lyrics over and over again.  It reminds me a lot of the ending to the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk The Line, when he continually proposes to June Carter till she finally sees he's for real, and accepts.  And, criminally, that is just missing from this studio version.  It's not nearly as noticeable as the other two live songs getting studio treatment, but it's still lacking.  Rating: 3/5.

Overall:  I know I've used this joke before on the blog, but I can't remember when so I will use it again:  Sex is like pizza.  When it's good, it's great.  When it's bad...it's still pretty damn good!  And that's how I feel about Springsteen.  I will never complain about a new Springsteen album, especially because they are almost always followed by tours.  And like I said, what's good on this album is great!  The best thing about the digital age of media is the reduction of price in buying new albums.  10 years ago, when physical media was dominant and this CD would probably cost $20, I don't know if I could recommend it.  But in today's of iTunes and Amazon downloads, I can wholeheartedly recommend it for nearly half the price!