Album review: Bruce Springsteen, "The Promise"
The endless, tension-filled sessions for Bruce Springsteen's 1978 masterwork "Darkness on the Edge of Town" yielded some 70 songs; only 10 would make the finished version. Twenty-one of those missing tracks show up on "The Promise," a two-disc collection of outtakes that is, if not the great lost Springsteen album, then at least a very good one.
Because of a drawn-out legal battle with former manager Mike Appel, Springsteen was effectively barred from the studio between the release of the legend-making "Born to Run" in 1975 and the recording of "Darkness" in 1977. Written in the interim, the tracks on "The Promise" are a revelation, the missing link in the evolution of Springsteen's sound from the Spectorian operatics of "Born to Run" to the spartan solemnity of "Darkness."
The tracks will be bundled into a three-CD/three-DVD set titled "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story," which will also include rare live footage, a remastered version of "Darkness" and a feature-length documentary. More significantly, "The Promise" will also be sold as a stand-alone set, a rare instance of an outtake collection being made available uncoupled from its source material.
Suspended in place between "Born to Run" and "Darkness," most of the songs on "The Promise" bear the unmistakable traces of one album or the other. Unofficial "Born to Run" successors like "Gotta Get That Feeling" and "Rendezvous" are raucous, if slight, exercises in jangly, girl-group-inspired pop that would have felt nostalgic even in 1977; the giddy "Ain't Good Enough for You" is the love child of the Shirelles and Gary U.S. Bonds.
"Born to Run" was about avoiding the realities of adulthood: "Darkness" was about facing them down. Its "Promise" forerunners are easy to spot: "Candy's Boy" is "Candy's Room" in template; "It's a Shame" evokes both a slowed-down "Badlands" and "Streets of Fire"; "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)" is "Factory" with nominally more instrumentation and a love interest; too much instrumentation also likely doomed an alternate, rock version of eventual ballad "Racing in the Street."
It's not a lack of quality that consigned these tracks to outtake purgatory. "Darkness" was a Statement Record: serious, important, purposeful. Many of these castoffs were regarded as too punchy, too lighthearted. Love songs were also disallowed, which explains the exclusion of "Because the Night" (given, half-finished, to Patti Smith) and "Fire" (wisely given to the Pointer Sisters, though Springsteen's later live version trumps them both). Available here in a sped-up, Bruce-as-Elvis-impersonator version, "Fire" is the only song on "The Promise" that feels perfunctory.
The remarkable title track, for decades the Holy Grail of lost Springsteen songs, is thought to be a fable about both the singer's fractured relationship with Appel and his equally fraught relationship with his newfound fame ("Every day it just gets harder to live/This dream I'm believing in"). Three months in the making and worth every second, its exclusion from "Darkness" still mystifies.
Recommended tracks: "The Brokenhearted," "Candy's Boy," "The Promise," "Because the Night"
| November 12, 2010; 1:35 PM ET
Categories: Album reviews | Tags: Bruce Springsteen
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