Friday, January 17, 2014

Quick Takes: High Hopes (Rory)


Usually with movies, I try to stay away from reading reviews, so as to avoid possible spoilers and not have my expectations of the film tainted.  However, I didn't follow the same rules regarding High Hopes, as I pored over the Internet to get the critics' takes on the new album.  The reviews were very middling, as Pitchfork gave it a 4 out of 10, and the AV Club gave it a C+.  While Steve's first impressions were generally positive, I was still very wary of the record when going into it.  Surely, it wouldn't be as disappointing as Working On A Dream, but I wasn't expecting anything as strong as Magic.  And, as predicted, that's just where it landed.  It's....okay.

Granted, I've only just begun to digest the album, and my opinion is subject to change over the next few weeks, months, and even years.  But, from my first impressions, High Hopes seems like almost any other album released by aging rock stars - my mind immediately went to Tom Petty's solid-yet-forgettable albums The Last DJ and Highway Companion.  There's a couple of solid songs in here that will be added to a few On-The-Go playlists, such as "Frankie Fell In Love" and "Just Like Fire Would".  My personal favorite so far is "Dream Baby Dream", a simple, slow-building song that reminds me of Girls' "Hellhole Ratrace", where the lyrics become more and more powerful with every repetition.

Unfortunately, I agree with much of Pitchfork's review, as they complain about the over-reliance on studio sounds that sound dated, such as the distorted "Radio Bruce" voice.  Their review is especially on point in their analysis of "American Skin", which is by far the album's biggest misstep.   The live version has become so ingrained in the hearts of Springsteen fans that a studio version was nearly unnecessary.  You lose many of the tiny details that made the live version special, from Bruce's plea for quiet from the crowd to the exhausted sigh about 5 minutes in, right before belting out the line "My boot's caked in this mud."  Like Cheap Trick's "I Want You To Want Me", I'll be sticking with the live version for the foreseeable future.

What ultimately drags the album down is the lack of message.  Nearly every album since the turn of the century has had a unifying theme linking each song.  This, however, just feels cobbled together.  That being said - it is another 56 minutes of new(ish) Bruce music, which is a great way to start any year.  I look forward to hearing what you guys think, and changing my opinion about 50 times this weekend.