Bruce Springsteen – The Promise (Columbia) CD review It’s the fantasy of any music fan: to uncover a holy grail – an unreleased album of their favorite artist recorded in their prime. Most of the time, this stuff is left in the vaults for a reason — it wasn’t worth releasing back then (case in point, all those volumes of the Beatles’ Anthology just proved that the best stuff had already been issued). But, in a rare case like this, you get a bunch of great tracks that could’ve been released years ago. Of course, there’s a story here:
Bruce Springsteen was coming off the highly successful Born to Run album in 1975, when he was sued by his former manager. Part of the lawsuit inexplicably prevented the singer from recording in the studio. Yet, Springsteen continued to write at a feverish pace, and play live. By the time his legal problems were settled, he had a whopping 40 songs in which to choose for his next album. He would take ten of them, all of a similar, dark mood, and create Darkness on the Edge of Town; leaving the rest to sit in the vaults. The artist was on such a prolific tear, he would write 20 more new songs for his next project, The River, and quickly forget about these “leftovers.”
Fast forward over thirty years to present day and Springsteen has finally decided to revisit these old tracks. Of the 21 songs which make up The Promise, some were incomplete at the time, so he’s added background vocals and other embellishments to flesh them out. For some reason, Springsteen has chosen to re-record his vocals on several tracks (I’ve counted at least six). With a little detective work, you can easily pick out the “old” 2010 Bruce from the “young” 1977 Bruce. That little quibble aside, Springsteen simply doesn’t write music like this anymore: aural epics with chiming piano and guitars, bells and thumping drums.
A lot of these tracks have more in common with the grandiose Born to Run, than what would become the more stripped-down Darkness. As a whole, they’re a lot more upbeat – with many of them being throwbacks to vintage rock n’ roll. “Outside Looking In” sounds like a cousin to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” while “Someday (We’ll Be Together)” borrows it’s arrangement from Phil Spector’s production on the Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” Oddly, two of the weakest cuts are the two songs that he gave to other artists: “Because the Night” lacks the punch of the Patti Smith version, while “Fire” doesn’t groove quite like the Pointer Sisters’ take.
There’s a bonus for those who stick around through the whole set – a hidden track at the end of disc two called “The Way.” For those completists, this isn’t all of the outtakes from these sessions; five other songs have already been released on Springsteen’s 4-CD 1998 box set Tracks, and are also worth picking up. It’s a rare instance where old unreleased material can stand up to the classic albums, but in The Promise Springsteen fans have something worth keeping. –Tony Peters