Creating an album of covers, re-recorded Outtakes from The Rising, Magic, and Working on a Dream, and rewordings of previous songs. It’s a tricky one to pull off, but Bruce Springsteen has managed to pull it off. Forty-five years into his career, he continues to inspire generations of singer-songwriters by capturing American life with his guitar and words. The album features many guests including Tom Morello, guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, the late Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici as well as “Many Additional Players” and the well know E Street Band.
The Boss has a famously huge repertoire of high quality songs from throughout his near half century career, may of the songs on High Hopes have been bootlegged by fans for years now, which adds pressure to Springsteen to live up to their expectation with these new studio versions, with the song ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ perhaps the most highly anticipated track on the album.
Debuted back in 2001 at a concert in Atlanta, it was inspired by the death of an unarmed West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, shot 19 times after police officers in NYC mistook his wallet for a gun. The song empathises with both sides. At the time the song had a lot of controversy surrounding it, especially after the NYC police chief and Mayor condemned both the song and the singer but it remained on his set list for the tour. In 2009, he revived “American Skin” and began dedicating performances to Trayvon Martin, and that sad new relevance is ostensibly the reason the song appears on Springsteen’s 18th album. Unfortunately the album version does not do the track justice and feels somewhat overproduced and over arranged, which detracts from the meaning and message of the track.
That is the feeling for a majority of the album, there has been too much time put in to producing and trying to make the songs as ‘big’ as possible. The gospel choir on ‘Heavens Wall’ overpower the rest of the arrangement, and the track would be far better stripped back.
It really is a shame, even with Bruce’s incredibly high standards, that the album does not live up to expectation and the songs on it do not sound particularly rare. Many of the songs contain far too much repetition, especially within the vocals, making them sound monotonous, ‘Heavens Wall’ for example repeats the phrase “Raise your hand, raise your hand, raise your hand” and ‘High Hopes’ “I’ve got high hopes, I’ve got high hopes, I’ve got high hopes” .
Overall it feels like these songs should have remained in their original state, ether as live performances of the original studio version. Hopefully when performed live they will work far better as this is really where Springsteen excels. If you have a choice get a ticket to see him live instead of buying this album.
Written By: Samantha Stott