Many a time, we get repackaged classic albums that come with extra outtakes from those particular sessions, and the artists just put 'em there for the sake of putting 'em there, whether they're good or not. More often than not, they end up becoming 'odds & ends' reissues. So having said that, I'd like to point out that this double-LP of previously unreleased songs (The Promise) IS NOT just another compilation of outtakes, simply because the twenty odd songs here are strong enough to form an album of its own. In fact, these songs were supposed to be make up the 'lost' album after Born To Run. In total, about 70 songs (some of which ended up on Tracks) were written/recorded for what eventually shaped up to become the masterpiece Darkness On The Edge Of Town. How's that for prolific? The songs we have here are just some of the many that didn't fit the theme and mood of that record.
I've heard several of them from the heavily bootlegged Lost Masters compilations, but still it's nothing like this -- for the first time, we're presented with the full fleshed out productions of these gems. The Promise is a great example of Bruce's versatility as a pop songwriter and especially singer, being able to move effortlessly between different musical styles. He reached his most creative peak during the second half of the 70's, just churning out song after song. Half of the songs here could've easily become hits of that time. But more than anything else, this amazing collection reveals to us just how powerful the effect of Rock & Roll (and soul and r&b for that matter) had on Bruce and the E Street Band. They were influenced by the classics of the 50's and 60's. And boy did he put that to good use. Below is a detailed run through of each of the songs:
1. Racing In The Street ('78)
Notice that the same chord progression is used throughout the entire song, with the piano being played differently. It's obviously more dense than that what we're used to hearing, and this version sounds like it was a work in progress. Of course Bruce would eventually settle for something more sparse and quiet. The biggest surprise here? David Lindley on violins!!
2. Gotta Get That Feeling
Bruce re-recorded the vocals for this. But don't worry, his singing works wonders. Also there's newly added background vocals and a nice horn section, Mariachi style. The instrumentation is very 'Phil Spectorish'.
3. Outside Looking In
Just think of this as Buddy Holly (think Peggy Sue) infused with the Jersey Shore sound and a bit of punk sensibility and you get a great fuckin' song.
4. Someday (We'll Be Together)
I could imagine Roy Orbison doing this, given the angelic choirs and all. There's a 'wall of sound' influence here. Lovely instrumental bridge too. Take note -- this is how you write a non-sappy love ballad.
5. One Way Street
An older Bruce attempts to recreate his '78 vocals (listen carefully and you'll notice all those little nuances in the singing) in the later verses. Spectacular stuff here.
6. Because The Night
This version follows quite closely to Patti Smith's. Badass as always.
7. Wrong Side Of The Street
Again, new vocals. I know many fans have a problem with this, but I love it. The intro reminds me of Loose Ends. I think the chord changes are what makes this song ultra catchy, and there's a great guitar and sax solo in there. This is just begging to be played live.
8. The Brokenhearted
A homage to 60's Elvis. There's a nice addition of trumpets in the background. The best part comes during the last forty seconds, where (2010) Bruce screams out his lines as the song fades out.
Previously on the Tracks set as a live version. One of the best pop songs Bruce has ever done, and it wouldn't have seemed out of place in The River.
10. Candy's Boy
Now this is an interesting one. It would evolve into Candy's Room we've all come to love. The lyrics are mostly the same (notice some lines that would later appear on Drive All Night), but the music drastically different. The better version is obviously on Darkness. But here, we see how Bruce could rework something and totally change it musically. The organ solo is proof of Danny Federici's instinctive prowess.
11. Save My Love
This can be considered a new song, written and rehearsed in the 70's (the footage is in the Thrill Hill Vaults DVD), but finally realized and completed this year. It's short, but it's fucking sweet. Again, Bruce's singing brings the listening experience to a new high. Even if you take away the vocals, you can still tell it has that distinctive E Street sound. One of my current favorites.
12. Ain't Good Enough For You
I love it when the band does a doo-wop style tune. This is a real fun number, reminiscent of So Young And In Love. There's also a cool reference to Jimmy Iovine.
Recently on E Street Radio, Bruce said he had written this song for Elvis to sing. Pity it didn't happen, but the Pointer Sisters helped make it a hit. I'll admit it -- I've always disliked this song, and it might be because of the bass line (no offense to Garry Tallent). So no matter how many times I listen to this, it still won't do it for me.
14. Spanish Eyes
So the first lines of I'm On Fire came from here. This is another tender love song, and Bruce sings it with great conviction. The way he drags the title word in the chorus is just plain awesome.
15. It's A Shame
This one is incredibly stunning. Similar rhythm to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Living In The Future. Motown soul is always a good thing. And who knew Jon Landau could play the drums?
16. Come On (Let's Go Tonight)
Basically Factory with a different set of words, but still sung in a somber tone. In fact, this was the origins of Factory. It's even more depressing to hear the line "The man on the radio said Elvis Presley died." Professor Roy Bittan's piano playing drives this song. And let's hear it for the great David Lindley on violins.
17. Talk To Me
Initially Bruce wrote this and gave it to his buddy Southside Johnny. Definitely one of the highlights of this set. There are some awesome-sounding horns in there. Sheer fucking brilliance.
18. The Little Things (My Baby Does)
21st Century Springsteen trying to sing like Roy Orbison. There's a cool operatic vibe to it, and Bruce does a good job with the falsettos.
Magnificently epic is how I'd describe this song. It sounds like a love song, but it's not; it's more on the line of The Price You Pay. The chorus, the instruments, the singing just blows me away.
20. The Promise
This is the only song that fit perfectly with the Darkness theme, and it came so close to being on the final album, but was misinterpreted as being a song about the infamous lawsuit with Mike Appel. It's a follow-up to Thunder Road; the sad outcome of the protagonist who has lost everything. There's this line that I always thought summed up most of Bruce's characters: "I won big once and I hit the coast, but somehow I paid the big cost. Inside I felt like I was carrying the broken spirits of all the other ones who'd lost." I can't fathom the decision to cut out the second chorus. But still without a doubt , The Promise is one of the best songs he has ever written.
21. City Of Night
Great song to chill out to, with a Manhattan night vibe. Bruce plays it cool on the singing.
22. The Way
The hardcore fans are probably relieved this managed to slip into the set, but as a hidden track. Why? Cause Bruce hated this song! He said (on E Street Radio) he could imagine it being the soundtrack to a sick, perverse sexual scene in a David Lynch film. Yeah, no kidding. But come to think about it, it wouldn't sound so far-fetched. I've grown to like The Way over the years.
This is one of the best sounding Springsteen releases ever. I know being a major fan and all, I want very much to like everything I hear. But I swear to God with true and unbiased honesty, The Promise is an instant classic. 5/5