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High Hopes’ cover shows two Springsteens, both in double denim, legs splayed, guitar in hand, projecting an almost parodic aura of Bruceness. The self-recycling continues on the album, a hotpotch of new recordings of unreleased old material and covers from the Boss’s live sets over the years.
It opens with the title track, a version of a song by raucous 1990s roots-rockers The Havalinas, Springsteen bellowing a message of bruised but unbowed optimism over a formulaic rock ‘n soul soundtrack. At the other end of the album he strips Suicide’s 1979 single “Dream Baby Dream” of New York decadence and turns it into a consoling all-American prayer, the original’s echoes of the Velvet Underground replaced by a mawkish Elvis impersonation.
“The Ghost of Tom Joad” is unnecessarily re-recorded as a blustering anthem, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine grimly cranking out tedious guitar solos. (The strident Morello is the ill-fitting replacement for Steven Van Zandt, absent pursuing his acting side-career.) Other songs find the singer in such familiar roles as the apocalyptic visionary of “Hunter of Invisible Game” and the blue-collar elegist of “The Wall” – all performed with full-throated commitment by an invigorated-sounding Springsteen, but not a patch on the poetry and scope of his best work.