Album: Bruce Springsteen, The Promise (Columbia)
Due to legal problems, Bruce Springsteen was unable to follow-up his breakthrough success with Born to Run for three long years.
Instead, he and his band spent their days in Bruce's gaff, rehearsing new material – ultimately, a cache of some 70 songs. By the time he was free to record again, punk had revolutionised rock'n'roll, and with it Springsteen's approach: the 10 tracks that eventually comprised Darkness on the Edge of Town were of a flintier, more spartan cast, and streaked with the misgivings of maturity. Of the remaining songs, the more commercial were farmed out to third parties – "Fire" to The Pointer Sisters, "Because the Night" to Patti Smith – and a few more made it on to The River and Tracks, while the rest were consigned to history.
Until now: the completion of a documentary built around footage from those sessions has prompted the release of The Promise, a 2CD set of 21 outtakes that effectively offers the bridge between the two albums. Symbolically, it's still focused on the same highway of broken dreams, but the tenor is significantly more upbeat and triumphalist, with plenty more musical footnotes to the grandiose pop-soul of Phil Spector and Shadow Morton, and other, more specific, heritage references: the unrequited love of the underdog in "Outside Looking In" rides a galloping Buddy Holly tom-tom tattoo, while castanets and "sha-la-la" backing vocals lend a "Spanish Harlem" tinge to the street romance of "Gotta Get That Feeling".
There's more liberal use of Clarence Clemons's euphoric sax than on Darkness..., with a few tracks boasting bigger, burring Stax-style horn arrangements: the soulful ballad "The Brokenhearted" is so heavily freighted with them, it compellingly evokes the big, blustery arrangements of Born to Run grinding to a halt, finally seizing up. But there are enough potential hits here to confirm Steve Van Zandt's contention that this abandoned tranche of songs would have confirmed Springsteen as one of the great pop songwriters. "Because the Night" and "Fire" are both included, the latter smouldering in predatory fashion, while "Ain't Good Enough for You", with its infectiously laconic handclap groove, is a lost good-time pop classic.
There's a certain palimpsest appeal to The Promise, too, with the early appearances of lines that would subsequently settle into more secure surroundings: the opening gambit of "I'm on Fire" likewise heralds this album's "Spanish Eyes", and lines from "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)" turned up later in "Out in the Street", while "Candy's Boy" starts from the same place as "Candy's Room" but wheels off in a completely different direction. But it's the alternative version of "Racing in the Street" which best illuminates this set: with the addition of David Lindley's violin, it's more ponderous, less poignant, than the eventual released version, more of a halfway house between romanticised street-operas like "Thunder Road" and Springsteen's darker new vision, but retaining that crucial awareness of soured dreams of escape that makes it such a pivotal song in his career.
DOWNLOAD THIS Racing in the Street; Fire; Ain't Good Enough for You; Breakaway; Because the Night