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Whenever an artist starts scrounging around their archives for unreleased tracks, it’s usually for a so-so box set of rarities, or even worse, a way to dredge up past glories when the current musical muse has long-since dried up.
That’s not the case with Bruce Springsteen. In the ‘90s he released an incredibly ambitious box set of B-sides and rarities called TRACKS that proved even his toss-offs were (for the most part) A-sides.
You’d think after that exercise, there was very little from the past to mine, but lo and behold we have THE PROMISE, a 21-track, two-disc CD that should be viewed as the long lost album bridging BORN TO RUN and DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.
In a farmhouse in New York circa 1978, Bruce Springsteen and his E. Street Band convened to top the highs of BORN TO RUN, but to also expand their musical palette. The result was a rockin’ album that mixed the wall of sound aesthetics of Phil Spector girl groups with his classic Jersey rock swagger.
The result, is quite honestly, stunning. This two-disc set (not a bad track in the bunch) holds its own with anything released by any other artist this year. It’s that fresh.
It also provides some alternate history to well-known tracks. “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)” is a more romantic track with entirely different lyrics than the DARKNESS track “Factory” which ultimately used the music as the new anchor. He even cribbed the line from “Come On” for his later song “Johnny Bye Bye” (“A man on the radio says Elvis Presley has died”).
Also represented are Springsteen’s previously unreleased versions of “Because the Night” which was sung by Patti Smith who he co-wrote the track with and “Fire” which was covered by both Robert Gordon and The Pointer Sisters. The interesting thing about the track was Springsteen wrote “Fire” for Elvis Presley, and this is the first time that Presley swagger is actually heard in the song. He really channeled the King of Rock and Roll on this one, and it’s a shame the King never had a chance to cut his interpretation of it.
Springsteen really shows his musical roots on THE PROMISE, echoing the warbly Buddy Holly guitar and song structure on “Outside Looking In” (but still sounding like himself), there’s classic romantic angst with “One Way Street” (with a killer Clarence Clemons sax solo) and a completely different version of “Racing in the Streets” which, of course, appeared on DARKNESS.
You can even hear a little Roy Orbison swagger swelling at the heart of “Someday (We’ll be Together)”
Disc 2 highlights include first single “Save My Love” and the heartbreaking “City of Night.”
“It’s A Shame” is also another flat-out infectious rocker. It’s got a great beat and an awesome hook. Again, can’t believe this song has been buried for so long.
You can also see Springsteen obsessed with street during this time with song titles like “Racing in the Street,” “One Way Street,” and “Wrong Side of the Street.”
Like I said, there’s not a single bad track in this set – something you can’t say for many other artists. And if you want to get even more obsessive, you can dig into the TRACKS box set and pull another five tracks from these sessions for the complete THE PROMISE set.
Frankly, the biggest issue I have with THE PROMISE is why Springsteen has been so stingy in ever releasing all these tracks. Sure, if these songs sucked, bury them in the vault, but these 21 songs are so damn good and hold up on repeated listenings, it’s perplexing why it’s taken over 30 years to have them on a formal release.
It makes you wonder what else Springsteen is holding out on us. Are there more BORN IN THE U.S.A. tracks sitting in the vault? Is there a brilliant album from the ‘90s that never saw the light of day?
Either way, THE PROMISE is a must for any Springsteen fan. This is not a rehashing of the past, it’s a brand new aural experience and it delivers on all cylinders. One of the Best Albums of 2010 (and 1978 too, if it was actually released when it was supposed to be released).