Thursday, November 25, 2010



Betwee 1975 and 1978, Bruce Springsteen couldn't release the all-important follow-up to his breakthrough album Born To Run. Mired in a lawsuit with his former manager, the litigation forced the delay of what became Darkness On The Edge Of Town. During that time, Springsteen played as much as he could, but also started piling up songs, writing at a furious rate. Dozens were recorded, many were reworked, and most discarded for the final album. He probably would have released another in between if he could have, and now we get an idea of what that might have sounded like.

The Promise is made up of 21 tracks from that 1976-77 period (22 actually, there's a hidden one) spread over two discs. The title cut is a famous one in Bruce lore, often bootlegged. It's the direct follow-up to BTR's Thunder Road, even naming it in the lyrics. Mournful, it was okay, but a little bit gimmicky in its Part Two subject matter. And there you have it, the reason these songs were never used, or drastically altered along the way. Unlike the almost-flawless Darnness album, most of these songs are pretty good, but not quite there.

There's some well-known ones in here, including Fire, a big hit for the Pointer Sisters later. Springsteen plays it too straight on this retro-rockabilly number, and it's still missing a crucial note change in the chorus melody, that the Pointers nailed, and which actually made it a better record. Because The Night went on to become a better song in co-writer Patti Smith's hands too, although Bruce comes close here. Racing In The Streets needed a lyric overhaul and a strip-down to make it much better on Darkness than this early, full-band take. And Candy's Boy was far too soft and slow until it got speeded up and darkened as Candy's Room.

Most of the tracks have never seen the official light of day. Separately, each one has lots going for it. When you hear them collected, you get the sense that Springsteen wanted to continue to emulate great rock and roll from the past, as on the Spector-Orbison blend on Born to Run. You hear echoes (and lots of added echo) of Springsteen's beloved Top 40 radio of the mid-60's, with big horns and girl group backing vocals, and lots of up-tempo numbers to dance to. However, they sound like studio tricks at times, as the E Street Band has been turned into a jukebox bent on reclaiming a sound rather than moving forward on its own.

If indeed an album made of some of this material had come out in 76-77, it might have actually been a step back for Springsteen. While it would have been fine and fun, it might also have been judged

lightweight and too happy by critics and fans, who could have been looking for more Born To Run epics. That's exactly what Springsteen did finally deliver with Darkness, a dark and brooding rocker on fire, which fit the times.

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