Bruce Springsteen's new album, High Hopes, brings forth an important musical question: how effectively can an artist of the highest caliber hope to put old parts together to form a shiny, new polished product? Each of the songs on his new album has a history. Clearly, assembling them is a project that would take the best engineering as well as just a little of that human touch.
The album is neither authentic nor unauthentic. The bold production from Ron Aniello (and also Brendan O'Brien) is somehow both slick and subtle, often at the same time. Talented Tom Morello's presence is intriguingly awkward with an emphasis on the intriguing side.
The original, spacious 1995 "The Ghost of Tom Joad" is, arguably, one of Springsteen's best recordings ever. And Tom Morello's electrifying live guitar and co-vocals on the rock version are equally worthy of documentation. Putting together a new recording on High Hopes capturing all of that certainly reflects a welcome challenge. Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan trading vocals on the reworked "Girl from the North Country" at the opening of Dylan's Nashville Skyline is perhaps similar conceptually to this scenario in some surreal way.
It should be noted that High Hopes' music is serious in intent, almost heavy. The core vocal narrative of the album is cohesive but one also senses something missing. Interestingly, this sense of absence becomes an emotional core to the album itself, a needed subtext up against a wall of referential moments.
Ultimately, High Hopes, despite its understandable flaws, accomplishes a remarkable feat. This album is memorable and should be noted as a template for bringing previously existing songs together as something new. Yes, the music is up and running with its varying driving rhythms in full gear, affirming the answer to the old original hopeful question of what album production options are truly possible for an artist who continues to be high at the top of today's musical landscape.