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Bruce Springsteen
The Promise Rich Hughes , November 26th, 2010 10:21

By Rich Hughes

"What you have in your hands is a new/old record, the lost sessions of music that could have/should have been released after Born To Run and before the collection of songs that became Darkness At The Edge of Town." So says The Boss in the liner notes of this lavish 2 CD collection called The Promise. Recording took place in the two years between the aforementioned albums; these were intense sessions that almost drove the E Street Band crazy. After receiving massive critical acclaim and success with Born To Run, Springsteen struggled to come to terms with it all. What didn't help was entering into a massive legal battle with his former manager Mike Appel which meant he couldn't, or more likely didn't want to, release records. These sessions were seen as "banking" albums of material ready to go when the legal nonsense had been rectified. Nearly 70 tracks were recorded at this time, but only 10 went onto the Darkness On The Edge Of Town when it was finally release in 1978.

I guess we don't really know why it's taken over 30 years for this material to finally see the light of day. There is an accompanying film called The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town which is currently doing the art cinema circuit which sheds light on the technical aspects of these times, but is The Promise worthy of a separate album title or is it just a collection of offcuts?

Well, the first disc is where all the goodies are. There are songs here that could (and would) be massive hits. The dark, brooding version of 'Because the Night', later to become a hit when Patti Smith recorded it, is impressive. It oozes a menacing aspect that's sometimes lost in translation. 'Gotta Get That Feeling' is the come down from 'Born To Run', a piano-led ballad that comes complete with a rousing saxophone solo. The Roy Orbison twang of 'Someday (We'll Be Together)' is a classic 50's pop song which, in another age, would soundtrack school proms the world over - pulling heart strings with its wondrous vocal harmonies. 'Wrong Side of the Street' is the The Boss and the E Street Band hitting full, epic, stride with charged guitar riffs and an emotive piano refrain.

This disc aches with feelings of déjà vu as well. I'm convinced I can hear snippets of musical ideas that The Boss has since recycled. But then I guess that was the idea. In fact, the second disc makes this feel more like a collection of out-takes. Here, the ideas seem less well formed, a little more sketched and demo-like in nature. 'Save My Love' reminds me of 'No Surrender', 'Ain't Good Enough For You' is a bit of throw-away pop song that borrows from every 50's act and comes across as comedy cover rather than an original song. It's the title track that redeems this second disc. Its tawdry tale of the broken American Dream is everything we've come to expect from Springsteen and is the biggest sign of where he was heading – for all his pomp and stadium filling antics, there was still darkness at the heart of everything, a warning of how tainted America can become. What this collection really shows is that Springsteen has been one of the finest writers of these tales for a generation.

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