Despite an air of familiarity, Bruce Springsteens latest album delivers some interesting twists.
By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star
High Hopes, which was streamed on CBS.com Sunday night and will be available to buy Jan. 14, is a mixed bag of covers, outtakes and remodeled versions of two of his better-known songs.
The 12-song recording Springsteens 18th studio album opens with the title track, a remake of a song by 90s Los Angeles roots band the Havalinas. The song, which also appeared on Springsteens Blood Brothers EP in 1996, sets the album off on a rousing note, but that tone changes quickly.
What follows is a collection of songs with a variety of sounds and origins, but a thematic consistency.
If High Hopes has a message, its one about justice and redemption. Some songs are steeped in gospel music and rife with biblical allusions, such as Heavens Wall. Others visit the dark side, like Harrys Place, a number riddled with F-bombs that sounds like the FX networks version of Marys Place from The Rising album: Its Harrys car, Harrys wife, Harrys dogs run Harrys town / Your blood and money spit-shines Harrys crown.
Hopes includes re-recorded versions of two of Springsteens more political songs: American Skin (41 Shots), written in 2001 in response to the shooting death of Amadou Diallo by New York City police and revived recently after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin; and The Ghost of Tom Joad, which has been recast here as something heavier at nearly twice its original length, with help from guitarist Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Machine, who has been touring as part of Springsteens band.
Springsteen has included two other covers, both somewhat intriguing because neither original band has much in common with his style of music. The first is a pretty straightforward version of Just Like Fire Would by the Australian band the Saints; the other is a worthwhile version of the lush and ambient Dream Baby Dream by the electronic duo Suicide.
Nothing on Hopes is likely to bounce anything off any list of Springsteens most-revered songs, but a few sound like ripe material for his live shows, especially with his larger, horn-filled band. One of those is the bright and soulful Frankie Fell in Love, which isnt quite Rosalita but gets pretty close. Others: the eerie Down in the Hole, which has an appealing Im on Fire vibe, and Hunter of Invisible Game.
Some of these recordings reportedly go back far enough to include some studio performances by Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, longtime E Street Band members who died in 2011 and 2008, respectively.
Billboard reported in late December that the individual songs were available via download for a very short time on Amazons mobile site, though they were quickly taken down. Sundays streaming on CBS.com promotes both High Hopes and the Jan. 12 episode of the networks The Good Wife, which will feature three songs from the album.
But the best news? High Hopes may give Springsteen another reason to tour North America again, which is what his fans want out of him the most.
To read more from music writer Timothy Finn, go to our music blog, Back to Rockville, on KansasCity.com. Twitter: @phinnagain.