Reviewing a Bruce Springsteen album presents something of a challenge. The first problem is the temptation to view his current work through the lens of his earlier offerings-- after all, this is the guy who recorded Nebraska, probably the most downright terrifying album ever recorded. The second is Springsteen's political legacy. I'm particularly sympathetic to music with a political bent. To be honest, I want his music to be good. High Hopes ain't Nebraska, it isn't even 2005’s Devils and Dust. It's an erratic album, and only a few tracks delve into the icy creepiness which is my favorite thing about Springsteen. Overall, though, it’s a better effort than 2012’s Wrecking Ball and 2009’s Working on a Dream. Half of the 12 tracks are pretty good, and a couple are really good. As my wife points out, that's a decent shooting percentage these days. The album really is a grab bag. Musicians and producers vary from song to song, three songs are covers, and two songs are re-workings of older tunes. Springsteen is joined on seven of the 12 tracks by guitarist Tom Morello, who really does some nice stuff. Morello’s textures and feedback pops bring several songs to life and gives a very different vibe than the E Street Band. Let's start with the good. "High Hopes," a protest song written by Tim McConnell, explodes at the first chorus and doesn't look back, even veering into bossa nova on occasion. Awesome. “Frankie Fell in Love” is wonderfully recorded-- it doesn't seem to be about anything in particular but it’s plain dumb fun. "This is Your Sword" would be high pseudo-religious cheese in the hands of a lesser artist, but Springsteen believes in it to the point that by the second listen I was singing along and feeling vaguely military. "Down in the Hole" is paranoid to the point that it squirms within its arrangement -- I dig it. “The Wall” is the best track on the album. I'm sure others have written about finding a loved one’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial, but they don't catch the bitter fury toward a country that still won't acknowledge the crime it committed by sending 58,000 young men to die for nothing. "I remember you in your Marine uniform, Laughin', laughin' at your ship-out party, I read Robert McNamara says he's sorry." Parts of the album, though, are overproduced. All three production teams used a vocal filter effect to Springsteen's voice to provide backup vocals-- you know, the "I'm singing through a megaphone or old timey radio," typically used by bands such as Limp Bizkit. The resulting call and response between regular Springsteen and filtered Springsteen gives the impression that regular Springsteen is being chased by a swarm of bees. It's really annoying, especially as it is featured in four of the first five songs on the album. Fortunately, it suddenly stops halfway through the fifth track and does not return. Other production choices doom a few tunes. There is what seems to be a synthetic mariachi band deep in the mix towards the end of "Just Like Fire Would," and a gospel choir ruins "Heaven's Wall" before it even starts. Gospel choirs on white guy rock music are so unconscionably lame that it begs belief this was included, but we can probably thank Brenden O'Brien, who produced the track. Apparently tormenting us all with Pearl Jam wasn't enough for O'Brien; he is still seeking vengeance on the music purchasing public for some cryptic grievance. There are some lyrical issues too. "Harry's Place" is a harrowing tale of a crackhouse/bordello/Alex Rodriguez nutrition lab which would be great if the demigod of evil running the show was named anything but "Harry." There are twelve references to the name Harry in the second verse alone -- has a child been named Harry in the last 50 years? It’s jarring, and takes your attention away from the rest of the song. "Just Like Fire Would," which Springsteen didn't write, is a good song based on a bad pun. Puns don't work in rock music, unless you're Bon Scott (and it's dirty). Some of the tunes on “High Hopes” are retreads, including “American Skin (41 Shots)” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” from 2000's Live in New York City and 1995's “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” respectively. The original recording of “Tom Joad” sounded like a depression-era hobo preacher hissing at you across a campfire, and is one of my favorites -- it didn't need to be updated, and the new version is underwhelming. “American Skin,” however, is harder to assess. In summation, there is enough good on this album to make it worth the price of admission. Hell, it's worth it just for "Frankie" and "This is Your Sword," because we can all stand to be dragged out of our cynical selves sometimes.