How often do we hear the phrase “high hopes” in the same sentence with “New Jersey”? That’s right. Rarely, if at all. Yet, with Bruce Springsteen’s latest album “High Hopes,” released Jan. 14, we’ve finally been given the chance.
The album, co-produced by Springsteen, Ron Aniello and Brendan O’Brien, is expected to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, which would mark Springsteen’s 11th album to do so. Currently, he’s tied for third place with Elvis Presley for most No. 1 albums, one away from Jay-Z and two behind The Beatles. (By the time of publication, the top 10 will have been announced.)
Not all of the the record is new. Springsteen said about the music, “It’s some of our best unreleased material from the past decade.” And he definitely isn’t wrong.
The album is riddled with the New Jersey noir that we’ve come to expect from Springsteen and his E-Street band. The album-titled single “High-Hopes” is a multi-layered, high-octane track of trash-can percussions, garbled guitar licks, and a horn section reminiscent of a Bob Seger tune. The Grand Theft Auto type theme-song “Harry’s Place” reminds us that Springsteen’s guitarist, Van Zant, co-starred in “The Sopranos.” Also featured on the album is guitarist Tom Morello and since deceased E-Street members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici.
“Down in the Hole,” a ballad that opens with the sounds of iron being struck, steam rolling in and a blues diva setting the mood, precedes the sermon-like song “Heaven’s Wall.” The placement of these two tracks is interesting as it calls attention to Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole,” best known for its inclusion in the opening montage of the popular HBO drama “The Wire.” And “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” presumably a tune never released on the 1995 album with the same name, is a devilish cowboy tale of the fictional character Tom Joad of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”
Each track is riddled with points of nostalgia that reference Springsteen’s career, influences and other moments of pop culture. Considering this is his 18th album to date, it becomes difficult to insert this one within his already existing canon, except to say that this album is Springsteen doing what Springsteen does best.
Benjamin Rader can be reached at email@example.com.