Tuesday, February 10, 2015

One Year Later: High Hopes

It's been a little over a year since Bruce Springsteen released High Hopes, his 18th studio album. So, how is it holding up? Are people calling it a classic? Are people still listening to it? Do people even remember it came out?

Based on its limited cultural impact (it opened number one but fell quickly), I think it's safe to say it's largely faded from public consciousness. If anyone is still listening to it or talking about it, it's the super fans. But has it even had an impact there? E Street Radio seems pretty unmotivated to play its tracks.

When I wrote about my first impression of the album, I described it as… “A collection of covers, cuts, and remakes, the album is a curio in Springsteen’s oeuvre. I doubt that it will ever be treasured by anyone as one of his best. And I wouldn’t argue with the detractors who feel that the album is overproduced, but I would say that there are a couple of gems here and a lot of fun to be had.”

After recently listening to the album in its entirety for the first time in months, I'd say my initial assessment largely holds. Here are a few new observations that have come with the passing of time:

• “Just Like Fire Would” still brings an instant smile to my face.
• “Frankie Fell in Love” seems to be the one song that comes on randomly on my iPod the most. Maybe its just because it feels overplayed to me but its initial allure has started to wear.
• “Dream Baby Dream” – my initial critique has softened and the song has grown on me a good deal. At first I couldn't get over how overproduced it felt, but now I feel like I can look past it and embrace the reassuring simplicity of its lyrics.
• “High Hopes” feels like a strong rocker that gets my feet tapping, but it’s not a song I'd seek out.
• American Skin (41 Shots) - It took me some time to get used to the initial shock of hearing the song performed this way. But now that has settled, I can recognize it’s one of my favorite Bruce songs, no matter what version it takes.
• “The Wall” is the song that has stuck with me the most. It’s the one track that I've proactively listened to the most over the past year. I often find myself quietly singing my favorite lyric, “Well I’m sorry I missed you last year, I couldn't find no one to drive me.”

I don’t think anyone expected High Hopes to be a classic – not even Bruce himself – but is it just me or does it feel all but forgotten a mere 13 months after its release? If so, it’s a shame because I laud Bruce for experimenting with covers, remaking his past songs and bringing Tom Morello into the fold so prominently.

We'll see how the album continues to age over the years. Again, I can't downplay my appreciation that Bruce still finds ways to surprise us. Before last year, I don't think I ever would have imagined Bruce would release a song with the lyrics, “You don't fuck with Harry's money, you don't fuck Harry's girls; These are the rules, this is the world.”

What does everyone else think? Any staunch defenders? Any harsh detractors? Votes of neutrality?

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