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Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

Bruce Springsteen

The Promise (Columbia)

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The pressure was on after Born to Run. Bruce Springsteen was the first rock artist to simultaneously fill the covers of Time and Newsweek, drawing FM airplay and charges of hype from cynics suspicious of his abrupt rise from local hero to national stardom. In the aftermath, Springsteen recorded and recorded again, working his way toward his anxiety-ridden follow-up, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Twenty-one tracks that never made it to Darkness have finally surfaced on The Promise.

The two-disc set begins with an early version of “Racing in the Streets,” but is otherwise comprised of songs unreleased on the 1978 LP. A few of The Promise’s tracks contain seeds that came to fruition on Darkness. The riff of “It’s a Shame” resurfaced on “Do It All Night” and the Dylan-via-Damon Runyan story of “Candy’s Boy” grew into “Candy’s Room.” Some of the songs are familiar through versions by other artists (or later by the Boss himself). The Promise includes the original recording of the Pointer Sisters’ hit “Fire,” “Talk to Me” (first recorded by Southside Johnny) and Springsteen’s collaboration with Patti Smith, the dramatic and yearning “Because the Night.”

Much of the music is built from Springsteen’s many early influences. “Outside Looking In” sounds like Buddy Holly as sung by Elvis; “Someday (We’ll be Together)” is Phil Spector with better lyrics than anything that ever emerged from his hit factory; “One Way Street” is a Doc Pomus-style ballad; and ‘60s folk rock echoes beneath “Wrong Side of the Street.”


In his jacket essay, Springsteen says that he tinkered with some of the unfinished old tracks “to bring them to fruition,” doing “what I would have done to them at the time and no more.” We can never know for sure—and neither can Springsteen—what decisions he might have made 33 years ago. In any event, most probable additions are unobtrusive, barely distinguishable from the music he laid down in 1977-78. The Promise, an album of discards, is more powerful than most anything deemed ready for release by the leading lights of 2010.
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