Bruce Springsteen – The Promise

The Promise (2010)


1. Racing In The Street (’78) 2. Gotta Get That Feeling 3. Outside Looking In 4. Someday (We’ll Be Together) 5. One Way Street 6. Because The Night 7. Wrong Side Of The Street 8. The Brokenhearted 9. Rendezvous 10. Candy’s Boy 11. Save My Love 12. Ain’t Good Enough For You 13. Fire 14. Spanish Eyes 15. It’s A Shame 16. Come On (Let’s Go Tonight) 17. Talk To Me 18. The Little Things (My Baby Does) 19. Breakaway 20. The Promise 21. City Of Night 22. The Way


Definitive proof that Bruce Springsteen is an excellent self-editor, The Promise is a two-disc set of outtakes from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions, which mostly alternate between fun but disposable and aggressively boring. But a bunch of two-bit Springsteen outtakes hardly seem like a pressing topic of conversation at the moment, right? After all, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States a week ago. Here’s the thing, though: I really, really don’t want to talk about that. Please, nobody try to talk about politics with me for the foreseeable future. I really just want to do my best to get along with everyone in America right now, no matter how big a piece of shit you may be. Let’s all just forget the election for now and be pleasant to and drink delicious beers with one another. However, before I move on, I will say two things. First, it might not be the worst idea to donate to the ACLU. Which is the case no matter who the president is. Second, I wrote a paper in which I analyzed an episode of The Apprentice in 7th grade. I would be very, very curious to go back and read it right now.

So, moving on! Because if there’s one thing that Americans of all political stripes love, it’s high fructose corn syrup. If there’s a second thing, it’s Bruce Springsteen. Bruce Springsteen is America! (Except when he sings protest songs about how Reagan and Bush are meanie heads. Then he’s a communist). That said, how anyone could truly “love” this bloated collection of plodding soul ballads, formulaic early ‘60s nostalgia kicks, and surprisingly generic lyrics is rather beyond me. Granted, there are some really fun poppy nuggets on here, but for a 90-minute record, they’re a bit few and far between.

One thing I’ll say for The Promise is that it doesn’t play at all like a slapped together cash grab outtakes collection. Rather, it plays like a proper double album. There are no rough demos, unfinished alternate takes, or obvious toss-offs; every song is fully realized, pristinely mixed, and thoughtfully sequenced. The aged modern-day E Street Band even went back and touched up a few of the tracks, apparently, and in the case of “Save My Love,” they re-recorded the entire song. Alas, many of those songs just aren’t very good! And even if some of these tunes might work better in a different context, there’s so little variance in tempo on The Promise that I have trouble maintaining my focus enough to care. Take “Breakaway,” to pick one at random since it’s the one that happens to be playing right now as I type this (so… not at random, I guess). There are definitely some interesting chord changes going on in the chorus there. However, it’s remarkably slow and draggy, and comes in the middle of a sequence of similarly slow and draggy songs, so I barely give a shit. Also, many of these songs sound like Bruce trying to do uncreative Elvis or Roy Orbison impressions. Like the unbelievably syrupy “Somebody (We’ll Be Together).” Holy shit, that has got to be the hokiest turd Bruce has ever laid down! Granted, I haven’t heard Human Touch yet, so don’t hold me to that. And how in the word did “Candy’s Room,” the most purely exciting, heart-pumping song in the Springsteen catalog, manage to begin life as “Candy’s Boy,” an astoundingly drab nothingburger? The mind boggles.

Alright, now that I’ve bitched a little, we can talk about the good stuff on here. And while that stuff is indeed good (I am an articulate college graduate and professional writer), they only reinforce my opinion that Darkness is perfect just the way it is, and would only be diminished by the addition or substitution of any of the aforementioned stuff. Take the alternate versions of two songs that ultimately did crack Darkness’s tracklist: “Racing In The Street” and “Factory” (presented here with different lyrics and the unimaginative title “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)”). Both versions on The Promise do feature fiddle lines, which lend them an appealingly folksy flavor they admittedly lacked on Darkness. However, the weary late night vibe of the album version of “Racing” is eschewed in favor of a more characteristically Springsteenian grand ballad arrangement. The song is still unassailably great, but the bombastic approach doesn’t suit the gritty lyrics nearly as well as the Darkness version. As for “Come On (Let’s Go Tonight),” its arrangement is virtually the same as that of “Factory,” other than the fiddle, but the lyrics are about Elvis dying, for some reason. Whereas the “Factory” lyrics are crucial to Darkness’s thematic coherence. Bruce made the right choices.

There are a handful of other very good songs on The Promise, but Bruce had good reasons to keep them in the vaults until 2010. The apparently oft-bootlegged title track would definitely fit thematically on Darkness, but its overt similarities to “Racing In The Street” made it superfluous. The wafting “Save My Love,” the Grease-like “Ain’t Good Enough For You,” and the infectious Buddy Holly take-off “Outside Looking In” are fun and melodic as hell, but too flippant lyrically and musically to be included on Darkness without diminishing its weathered atmosphere. Even two Bruce classics that became hits for other artists, “Because The Night” and “Fire,” were best left relegated to The Promise. The former because Bruce’s assertions that the E Street Band never got a good enough take of it turned out to be correct, if this sluggish, weirdly thin-sounding rendition is any indication; the latter because it’s just so dang catchy and delightful that it would’ve ruined Darkness’s vibe. And really, that seems to be The Promise’s ultimate, if unintended, message: go listen to Darkness On The Edge Of Town. It’s way better than this.

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