Ever wonder what Bruce Springsteen bottoming out looks like? Here it is ladies and gentleman. “High Hopes”, the lead single from Springsteen’s album of the same name, is an abomination for a number of reasons. But before taking The Boss to task, let me give you a little background on the upcoming album. High Hopes, the album, is essentially a b-sides collection of material re-recorded with various members of The E Street Band, along with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine fame taking the place of LxL favorite Steven Van Zandt on eight of the twelve tracks. Other artists have worked this formula fairly well, but if “High Hopes” is any indication, Springsteen is going to have far less success with a common formula.
So with that brief indictment of an upcoming record I have never heard in its completion in hand, let’s focus more on the one track we have before us, “High Hopes”. “High Hopes” was originally released on Spingsteens 1995 EP Blood Brothers. The original version may not be among the most celebrated songs released in Springsteen’s long career, but it is a perfectly enjoyable jaunt in the lyrical vein of Tom Waits. So to recap: the song has already been released, and the song is good (even by the standards of someone who isn’t a big fan of The Boss). Go ahead and check out the original recording below.
With all that being said, I have no idea why “High Hopes” needed to be retooled. Tom Morello, who hasn’t brought much to the table post-Rage, gives the guitar work a different look. Morello is just not a fit for what Springsteen typically tries to do, and his panache is lost against the blaring horn section, making “High Hopes” sound more like a Dave Matthews d-side than a Bruce Springsteen b-side. The horns are overbearing to the point of insanity, especially when listening to the two versions back to back. More than anything, Springsteen removed layer after finely tuned layer, to make the track annoyingly bombastic, and also very cookie-cutter.
I have no earthly idea why Bruce would make this trash heap his lead single to usher in a whole new audience to some of his older material. Maybe it is because “High Hopes” is one of his more recognizable b-sides. Maybe he didn’t make that decision for himself. And maybe Springsteen has decided to completely punt this album. Either way, it is a track to avoid.