Review: Bruce Springsteen, The Promise

Posted: December 9, 2010 in Album Reviews

There aren’t too many songwriters around whose unreleased output comes close to matching their well-known works. Bob Dylan is one, as evidenced by his “Bootleg” series, still going strong today. Another is Bruce Springsteen, who left some truly outstanding work on the shelf for years because the songs didn’t quite fit into the themes of the albums he was working on at the time.
He gave fans a glimpse into that treasure trove of rarities with the 1998 release of the four-disc box set, Tracks. That set spanned his entire career up until that point, and most of the songs held up extremely well to the ones that were released.
Now comes the much-awaited release of The Promise, a double-disc set of leftovers from 1978’s classic release Darkness on the Edge of Town.
Darkness was an extremely important album for the Boss, the follow-up to his first megasmash album, 1975’s Born to Run.
The follow-up took three years to generate, mostly due to contractual problems and difficulties with his former manager. That three-year wait between albums allowed Springsteen to record four albums worth of material. He eventually pared things down to 10 songs for the album’s release, leaving behind a plethora of worthy leftovers.
Some of these were given to other artists to record, such as “Fire” (a huge hit for the Pointer Sisters) and “Because the Night” (a big hit for Patti Smith). Others finally saw the light of day on Tracks, and finally we get to hear 22 more on The Promise.
Let’s just say, it’s well worth the wait for any Springsteen fan. Included on the set are Bruce and the E Street Band’s versions of “Fire” and “Because the Night,” as well as an alternate version of the Darkness standout “Racing in the Street.”
The other 19 tracks are completely new to me (although diehard fans have heard them on bootlegs through the years), and most of them are first-rate.
Overall, I prefer the first disc over the second, as more of the upbeat tracks are on Disc 1, including “Gotta Get That Feeling,” “Outside Looking In,” and “Rendezvous”. Overall, the second disc has more of the slower, brooding numbers, but they are all very well done, and many of these are growing on me. I especially like the album’s closer “City of Night,” an honest interpretation of what life must be like for the cab drivers and ladies of the night in major cities.
While The Promise might not be as good as classic discs like Born to Run, Born in the USA, Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River, it shows Springsteen in peak songwriting form. Several of these could have been hit singles, but they just didn’t fit thematically for Darkness. I’m glad we get to hear them now, as The Promise takes its place in the Boss’ canon as the great lost Springsteen album.

My faves: Racing In the Street, Outside Looking In, The Brokenhearted, Rendezvous, Fire, It’s a Shame, Talk to Me, The Promise, City of Night

Sod rating: **** 1/2

Ratings system:
***** Winning a million-dollar lottery
**** Scoring your dream job
*** Steady job with benefits
** Lose your job, now work at McDonalds
* Need to borrow money from bum in street

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