Album Review: The Promise – Bruce Springsteen

Posted: November 4, 2010 in Album Reviews
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Bruce Springsteen’s “new” album, “The Promise” is being hyped as the great lost Springsteen album. Truth is, had he been able to put this album out when the material was recorded, instead of being prevented from doing so legally, the album surely would have been 45 minutes of vinyl, not two CDs. So there’s one more reason to be grateful for its release now.

“The promise” is the logical bridge between “Born to Run” and “Darkness on the Edge of Town”. Bruce is somewhere between the tearaway of “Born to Run” but not yet the working class adult of “Darkness” trying to break through a world of compromise and limitations that seem to be holding him back.

The album starts with “Racing in the Streets” and ends with “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)” and “The Promise” (let’s call “City of the Night” a Wild, innocent, and E-Street-esque coda). The three songs are perfectly appropriate as bookends that foreshadow the restlessness of what is to come on “Darkness”, The first one is on that album (in a more understated but emotive version). The music of the second one was lifted intact for “The Factory”, which is also on that album, although lyrically a completely different, if just as sombre song here. The last one sounds like (and nearly was) on “Darkness.

Everything sandwiched in between the above tracks is a celebration of the joy and heartbreak of youth that sounds like it was created by a band unaware of the ramifications of clocking into adulthood. One last night where nothing is more important than cars, trying to impress girls, and what’s on the radio.

Early rock ‘n’ roll spirits permeate this album. For example “Fire” sounds like it was written for a pre-Hollywood Elvis. “The Brokenhearted” is tailor-made to be a Roy Orbison torch song. Whoever played drums on Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” seems to be driving “Outside Looking In”. None of it sounds derivative, but the influences are clearly there. Even when you can’t name the ghost, you can feel it in the 50s and 60s musical styles throughout. But as usual, the E Street Band make it all their own, and the tracks sound no more dated than anything else they released in those years.

Another highlight is “Ain’t Good Enough for You”, the most light-hearted song on the album. It sounds like it came from the same well as “This Little Girl is Mine”, which Bruce penned for Gary US Bonds” around the same era. It’s got a boogie beat, call and response vocals, and Bruce gets downright goofy by the time he gets to the hand-clap driven last verse.

“The Promise” comes with two hits that aren’t even released yet, at least not in the versions here. You might remember “Fire” as done by the Pointer Sisters, and I think we’ve all heard Patty Smyth’s version of “Because the Night”. The latter gets its E Street studio version debut, although anyone who has seen the band a few times has no doubt heard it in concert. Surprisingly, the lads had to go back and finish that one – it was handed to Patty half written.

If there is an odd one out here, it’s “Candy’s Boy”, not because it isn’t worthwhile, but because musically it sounds a bit like Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from “Highway 61 Revisited”, a little outside the musical scope of the body of this album. You know this one better as the full-on rocker “Candy’s Room” from “Darkness”.

I could continue on about each and every track, but at this point you’re going to listen to it or not. Yes, “The Promise” is hyped, but I’m reluctant to say it’s over hyped. Good as “Tracks” was, this album is on a different level. Sure it could have been released as an authentic single album, as it certainly would have been back then. And it could have been weeded for any songs that were only good, not spectacular, as most other Springsteen albums were at that time. It’s too late now – I ain’t handing any tracks back!

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