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Published: 2011/01/10
by Ron Hart

Bruce Springsteen
The Promise


The Boss calls 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town his “samurai” album. But given the fact that, in the end, only ten songs were used from the grueling two years’ worth of studio sessions that yielded over 70 tracks, it might have been more appropriate for Bruce Springsteen to call it his “butcher” album all the same. However, as a belated commemoration of its 30th anniversary, The Promise is a long-awaited two-disc collection that gathers together 21 of those discarded cuts—most of which were deemed too romantic for Darkness, a lyrically brutal album defined by its stark, antithetical viewpoint in the wake of the pie-eyed optimism of its predecessor, 1975’s Born to Run. And though some may chide the set as being a little too light on content considering the volume of material harvested during these sessions, the motivation for keeping The Promise a svelte 90-odd minute collection was purely for honorable reasons.

The intention of properly piecing together the album that could very well have come out between the releases of Born and Darkness is clearly exemplified here, its songs perfectly capturing the air of duality that hangs in the balance between both records, exemplified in the Brill Building bravado of “Rendezvous” and “Ain’t Good Enough For You”, the back alley yearning of an early “rock” version of the epic Edge ballad “Racing in the Street,” the incendiary earnestness of the original versions of “Because the Night”, given to Patti Smith for her own ‘78 classic Easter, and “Fire,” originally written for Elvis Presley before his death but ultimately recorded by new wave greaser Robert Gordon and then again by The Pointer Sisters (both scored hits with the composition on AOR and Top 40 radio respectively), and the scathing cynicism of the monumental title track, long considered the spruce goose among lost Springsteen studio tracks and said to tell the wrenching tale of Bruce’s controversial falling-out with ex-manager Mike Appel.

Diehard fans will want nothing less than the full-on 3-CD/3-DVD box set edition of this fabled back story, which features a remastered version of the original LP (and will hopefully be available separately as well), the two discs of unreleased goods, a DVD documentary on the making of Darkness that aired on HBO this fall and a pair of additional DVDs containing over four hours of concert footage from the venerated Thrill Hill Vault, including a complete “house cut” of a 1978 Houston show, a special 2009 performance of Darkness in its entirety shot inside an empty Paramount Theater in Asbury Park, NJ, and a compilation of performances of several songs featured on The Promise between 1976 and 1978.

However, if you are a Bruce fan on a budget in these harrowing times of economic purgatory, you can really live with just owning the two-disc edition without any kind of buyer’s remorse. After all, you can just watch the documentary on HBO On Demand, find all the audio for all that live material featured on the DVDs available on the Bruce Springsteen mp3 Bootleg Index and save your pennies for the next Boss deluxe special, which we are assuming will be for The River even though we are secretly hoping for Nebraska. But who are we fooling here—if you are anything like me, you’ll probably find yourself trolling the virtual used bins on Amazon for a cheap, lightly handled copy of the whole kit and caboodle six months from now anyway.

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