Bruce Springsteen's 'High Hopes': What the Critics Are Saying

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes Cover - S 2013

Bruce Springsteen High Hopes Cover - S 2013

The singer-songwriter turns to the past for fresh concepts in his latest album.

Once described as the quintessence of rock and roll's future, Bruce Springsteen has worked hard to fulfill his prophecy. Now, in a collection of covers, originals, and refashioned classics, Springsteen returns to the scene in full force with High Hopes, out Jan. 14. 

Springsteen, accompanied by the E Street Band, draws inspiration from various artists for his 18th studio album, including Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. The singer lauds Morello as his muse, "pushing the rest of this project to another level." 

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Like the album, reviews have been mixed. Critics applaud the rock-soul influence of Springsteen’s collaborators, but opinions remain split as to the album’s eclectic track-list.

For High Hopes, the singer-songwriter is taken to task once again in this week’s What the Critics are Saying:

Billboard’s Caryn Rose gives High Hopes an 83 rating, hailing the dynamics between Springsteen and Morello. "Indeed, Morello’s fingerprints are all over the album," Rose notes. "In total, his contributions appear on eight out of the 12 tracks on the album," wherein he "challenges Springsteen, both musically and emotionally."

High Hopes "is a portrait of the artist at the top of his 21st-century game," writes Rolling Stone’s David Fricke. In his 18th studio album, Springsteen delivers "rock-soul dynamite," a cumulative work that balances relevant themes with stylistic surprises. Fricke describes the effect as "retrospect with a cutting edge, running like one of the singer’s epic look-ma-no-set-list gigs."

Other critics have expressed reservations about the mixed bag album. The best tracks of High Hopes "rise above the odds," New York TimesBen Ratliff concedes. "But a large portion of the record feels, let’s say, official." High Hopes aims "to get close to other forms and visions," but comes short with "temporary downshifts into sparer and less narrative modes."

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"If High Hopes were a new model year car, it would be a midsize six cylinder with factor hubcaps, good gas mileage and just enough spunk to zip past the wood-paneled minivans on the two-lane," LA TimesRandall Roberts jokes. Like Springsteen’s 1992 release, Human Touch, his latest album reveals the fallibility of genius, indicative of "a past threatening to overtake him."

The Guardian’s Kitty Empire gives High Hopes 3 out of 5 stars, calling the album "a slice of the Boss at his best." The coalition of Springsteen and Morello creates an "overall impression… of a record playing with playfulness," Empire writes. High Hopes "takes the idea of a stopgap album full of odds and ends and reimagines it as something much more satisfying."

The mixed reviews continued in New Jersey, Springsteen's home state: Jersey Beat's Jim Testa called the release an "'odd and sods' album of old songs and obscure covers tricked up to look and sound like a new album," while The Star-Ledger's Tris McCall considered the album a followup to Wrecking Ball's religious ambitions, writing, "Once again, Springsteen is the minister in the chapel, offering guidance, sympathy and, occasionally, a raised fist of solidarity with the dispossessed."

And while Asbury Park Press' Chris Jordan has a strong distaste for some tracks -- he says "Harry's Place" plays "like a track from a Miami Vice soundtrack, and "'The Ghost of Tom Joad' here is overwrought" -- he still admits, "For an album touted as a collection of disparate tracks, High Hopes does have a unifying cohesion and is overall a significant work."