Bruce Springsteen put together a more unorthodox album than usual for his 18th effort. High Hopes is more a hodge-podge of covers, outtakes and leftover material than a fully-realized piece of work, but it flows surprisingly well considering the lack of continuity in the tracks themselves.
Bruce delivers some of his most forceful and commanding vocals to date, which are heightened and intensified by explosive guitar work from ex-Rage Against the Machine axeman Tom Morello. Springsteen seems most inspired and free-spirited on the album's covers, his urgency reaching full throttle on "Dream Baby Dream," a pulsating rocker by New York punk rock duo Suicide. His unabashed ability to rock is perfectly displayed on "Just Like Fire Would," a catchy and infectious track originally recorded by Australian punk band The Saints, while the album's best and liveliest cut, the title track (borrowed from little-known L.A. trio The Havalinas) proves a fantastic opener to the set.
Some outtakes, however, belong on the cutting room floor. "Down In The Hole" more than recalls his 1984 hit "I'm On Fire," the backing track almost identical to the original. Springsteen also revives two earlier songs from his own catalog. The controversial "American Skin (41 Shots)" gets its first release as a studio recording after only appearing on a previous live album and the title track off his 1995 folk-rock album "The Ghost of Tom Joad" gets a more muscular and brawnier reading here than its acoustic predecessor.
On the whole, it's not fair to judge this album as a "new" Bruce Springsteen album, especially considering the age of some of the material it features. However, it's also not fair to cast this off as a collection of filler. While it won't win over any new converts, the majority of High Hopes should please and elate long-time Boss fans.
Critics' Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars