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Bruce Springsteen

The Promise

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Label: Sony

Now is a time for looking back for the aging rock icon. Last year, Neil Young finally dropped the first installment of his long rumored Archives set and Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series is pushing double-digits. Like both artists, Bruce Springsteen has remained active, putting out four albums since 2005, most recently the undercooked Workin’ on a Dream in 2009.

Although the Boss has already released a deluxe version of his most loved album Born to Run, the reissue of Darkness of the Edge of Town also comes with the two-disc compilation The Promise. Dating between 1976 and 1978, the songs on The Promise (and those that would later become Darkness on the Edge of Town), find Springsteen on the come-down from his Born to Run success. After rising to superstardom, Springsteen and his manager fell into a bitter legal dispute that disallowed the Boss from entering a studio for two years. This, however, was not a fallow period for the musician, who spent his time writing and recording songs at his New Jersey home. While the material on The Promise is mostly more buoyant than the dark story songs that would end up on Darkness, this collection is the work of an artist at the peak of his powers. More reserved, tentative and restrained than the seam-bursting bombast of Born to Run, the material here is specked with sadness and world-weariness.

Tonally different than the hard luck tales of economic depression that inform Darkness’ themes, the songs on The Promise echo later work like The River, a time when Springsteen married both his love for rock ‘n’ roll with the blue collar hero ethic he has managed to champion throughout his career while rolling in lucre. “Someday (We’ll Be Together)” and “Gotta Get That Feeling” are both mid-tempo rockers with backing vocals and bold statements from Clarence Clemons’ saxophone (which is essentially MIA on Darkness) that would have sounded garishly out of place on Darkness, yet immediately take their place in Springsteen’s pantheon of infectious songs.

We’ve heard some of these tunes before. “Because the Night” and “Fire” have both been released in live incarnations. But Springsteen gave “Night” to Patti Smith and “Fire” to the Pointer Sisters and both cover versions became hits. Also, a different version of “Rendezvous” was released on the Tracks box set. Also interesting are an early version of “Racing in the Street” and “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)” is “Factory” with different lyrics. For some reason, a song about taking a girl out on a date isn’t as poignant as the final version that landed on Darkness.

The Promise, however, is not a haphazard collection of tracks thrown together to make a quick buck. Rather, it is sequenced as its own double disc album, a complete and important work. Some of the songs are presented just as Springsteen recorded them in the ’70s, but some have been finessed and some cases, like “Save My Love,” completely re-recorded.

Comparing The Promise to Darkness on the Edge of Town is fruitless and silly. Instead, look at The Promise as the missing album recorded between the ecstatic Born to Run and the dour Darkness. The only downside is we had to wait so damned long to hear this wonderful music.

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