Released January 14th on Columbia
Back in the studio for an eighteenth time Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen has come out once again with an offering of his particular brand of pop-rock gruffness.
Kicking off with the deliciously eclectic blare of the title track I’ve got to say that I too had ‘high hopes’ for this album. I mean, I’ve always been somewhat of a Springsteen fan, but this mixture of hard rock, jazz-funk horns, and frantic post-punk drumming really sets this track apart from his usual schtick and give the listener something new and interesting to latch onto. Unfortunately, however, the follow up tracks don’t seem to continue on with this vein of carefully considered freneticism, rather opting for a rehashing of the kind of eighties vibes we’ve all heard before.
I’m not saying that these tracks are necessarily bad (although one or two of them are), it’s just that when an album starts out this strong and fresh it’s always disappointing to have it immediately fall back into the well-worn rut of comfortability.
What I’m talking about are things like the overblown and completely emotionless guitar solo thrown in the middle of American Skin (42 Shots) in an attempt to spice up the dullness of that track (which also runs on far, far longer than is good for it), or the droning syncopation of Heaven’s Wall which reminds me too much of very specific two year period in musical history which I would much rather forget (’82 – ’84 if you’re interested). I mean, all of these annoyances are performed and produced with greay skill and care, but I could have said that about these cliches when they were first performed and produced in the eighties. I suppose, however, that Springsteen’s attempt is a whole lot less overwhelmingly stale than a lot of the rock-and-roll-hangarounds that have put out their records recently (see my review of Elton John’s The Diving Board), but still High Hopes just puts me in the mood to go back and listen to Born To Run rather than keep going with this.
The record does hit its stride, however, with tracks like Down In The Hole (not a cover of the Tom Waits song of the same name) in which Springsteen loosens his grip on the grimy, all-American, working-class-man persona and allows himself to flourish as a composer and musican. I mean, the metallic echo of the drums backing up the hauntingly ethereal vocal lines and chilling banjo pluck just go to show that the man really does know what he’s doing and that he has the scope to create some truly original music. Add to this the bursts of greatness that are The Ghost Of Tom Joad and The Wall and you’ve got the base for a good record. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t choose to do this kind of thing often enough and consequently the record turns into a mixed bag of confused styles.
So, all in all I have to come to the conclusion that Springsteen’s latest studio offering is on the whole rather lackluster, even if it is punctated occasionally with some brilliant moments, and for that reason I can’t really bring myself to rate it too highly. It’s not particualrly bad in any discernable way, but neither does it have enough moments of shining glory to make it something that I want to listen more than a couple of times.
The Hunter Of Invisible Game is just a Bob Dylan rip-off, and that kind of thing just pisses me right off. Not to mention that guitarist Tom Morello seems to serve no purpose on this record other than adding unnecessary solos where they are not welcome.