Sometime after 1pm today, the audio for the upcoming release of The Promise leaked out to the internet, ostensibly via a Sony Europe website. Within a couple hours, thousands of us had the mp3s on our computers, and it was seemingly the spring of 1978 all over again... with better technology.
Back then, I'd be in Sunday school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York with a couple friends of mine, and we'd be passing notes back and forth, with whatever tiny little rumor we had -- or could invent -- about when Bruce Springsteen's 4th album might finally see the light of day. It came, finally, via a midnight airing on WNEW-FM, and even then we knew that for every song on the album, there were more that did not get released. Some, like "Independence Day," we heard when Bruce played shows that were broadcast on the radio that fall. Others, such as "Because the Night" and "Fire," became hits for other artists. Some were released on The River, or, many years later, on Tracks. Other bootleg items eventually leaked out to fans, in various conditions of completeness and sound quality.
Now we have The Promise. Or rather, we will have The Promise when it becomes official on November 16. This release gives a glimpse in to what might have been. What might have been, say, had Bruce's lawsuit with Mike Appel been resolved sooner than May 1977, or, perhaps, had Bruce not settled on a different final vision for what became the Darkness On the Edge of Town album.
The Promise has the love songs that ended up being discarded for Darkness. It has the horns Southside Johnny used so effectively on his Asbury Jukes records from the same period. It has the pop songs that helped out artists such as Patti Smith, The Pointer Sisters and Greg Kihn. It has been said, many times -- including on the video documentary to be released as part of The Promise Box Set -- that Springsteen's official releases, especially at that time, were presented as cohesive statements rather than as simply collections of his latest songs. The Promise has more of those latest songs, but... it is still cohesive in its way. We have, in it, a young man finding his adult voice. A man having moved on from the hemi-powered fantasies of Born to Run, but not yet having escaped The Circuit. A man, having asked the question, "Is Love Real," now searching and aching for anyone who might give a hint of an answer. And a rock and roll writer willing to infuse his music with whatever archival elements would fit.
The Promise is presented as an album on 2 discs, and each disc is roughly the length a vinyl record would have been in the late '70's. From the very start, the stately piano introduction to an alternate version of "Racing In the Street," the album is a compelling listen. While the alternate version presented here has most of the same lyrics as the previous official release, it is presented as a much harder rocking song, and also features a violin part by David Lindley. Does it supplant the song that is on the Darkness album? No, not for me. Not even close. But that doesn't make this new entry any less compelling. Other highlights on the first disc include "Outside Looking In," featuring a drum part straight from Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue"; also, "The Broken Hearted," which evokes Roy Orbison; and "Candy's Boy," an instant transport to the boardwalk via Danny Federici's organ. There is also one notable dud for me on the first disc: "Someday (We'll Be Together Again)" somehow started reminding me of Abba harmonies, and whether it was the female backing parts or something else, that song just failed for me.
The 2nd disc starts out with a totally new recording, "Save My Love," and then rips in to two hits: "Ain't Good Enough," a funny rocker that could have been a hit for anyone else (and which bears more than a little resemblance to "This Little Girl," which eventually was a hit for Gary U.S. Bonds) and "Fire." This version of "Fire" matches up with a well-known bootleg that has circulated for many years, but with incomplete vocals. The working assumption for this song -- and several others on the set -- has been that much of the work done in 2010 was to finish those parts, such as vocals, that were never completed back in 1977. Yet the transition from parts recorded in 1977 to parts recorded in 2010 is largely seamless, to the extent that the transitions don't interfere with hearing the songs. Are the vocals to "Fire" new? I don't know, and, frankly... I don't care. Maybe I would if it came off sounding like a 61-year old stalker, but that trap was avoided here.
Most of the horn-based songs most suitable for Southside Johnny are on disc 2. These include "It's a Shame," a song previously unknown to me, but with a great little chorus line: "I (we) worked so hard, it's all in vain. Oh, it's a shame," and then taking the broken relationship off to the horn parts. "Talk to Me" basically is the track that was given to Southside to complete. I'm not going to do the A/B comparison, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that it's the same take. I'll also note, here, that Steve Van Zandt's contributions to "The Promise" shine through repeatedly, never more so than on this track.
"Come On (Let's Go Tonight)" uses the melody that eventually became the Darkness song "Factory," but mostly with lyrics that went in to the 1984 b-side "Johnny Bye-Bye." Elvis Presley died in August 1977, while the Darkness album sessions were in progress, and this song marks, I believe, the first song of Bruce's career to be based directly on current events. The title track is, for me, the weakest track on the disc; to me it feels cumbersome, and the orchestration only seems to drag it down further. Finally, the disc concludes with a "bonus" track; "The Way," one of Bruce's best love songs, that was somehow left off both "Tracks" and The Essential Bruce Springsteen.
For those of us who became fans in the late '70's, for whom that period between the two records was one of seeming non-stop anticipation, The Promise is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas rolled in to one. Nothing here displaces Darkness On the Edge of Town. There's not a single track here that I'd want to trade with one that's on that release, not one where I'd say, "Bruce selected wrong back then." And yet these are indispensable all the same. On "Outside Looking In," Bruce sings, "I'll do what I want to, I'll be what I am, I'm On the Outside Looking In." Tonight, I feel like the door's been opened, and I've just been let in.
The Other Akin Comment
4 years ago