men at work

A remarkable piece of work. If you’re not a Springsteen fan, this won’t mean much to you, but the box set The Promise (due Tuesday, but I’ve been lucky enough to get one a little in advance) is three things at once – a remembrance of the man Springsteen was back in the late 70s, an unveiling of an album completely lost until now and best of all, a reconsideration of Springsteen’s mighty ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town.’

First, the remembrance: There is generous footage from concerts and studio work in the late 70s, and yes, this was the E Street Band at its peak. I saw the band several times touring behind ‘Darkness’ and knew I might see great rock again, but never anything this perfectly formed, this complete. The concert blu-ray proves the point: by then, the band was less jazzy, more straightforward, but my god did it soar!

The lost album, also being sold separately as ‘The Promise.’ Songs Springsteen did between ‘Born To Run’ and ‘Darkness.’ Springsteen is making a point to say these aren’t mere outtakes, and he’s correct. But it’s also pretty obvious he made the right call way back when. Some of the ‘new’ songs are really good, a few aren’t, but none of them – except maybe “The Promise” – advanced the story the way the ‘Darkness’ tunes did. The really fine HBO documentary about the making of ‘Darkness’ just reinforces the point.

To me, the absolute high water mark for the set, and the biggest reason to own it, is the 2009 ‘live without an audience’ performance of ‘Darkness’ complete. Springsteen’s voice isn’t what it was even five years ago, and some of these songs have been played to death. Yet these old men dig deep into the album and produce something new: this is the sound of a man with a 20 year old son, telling stories, passing on advice about how to live. In his reading of the songs now, Springsteen seems to be saying what you lose in desperation and energy, you gain in wisdom. Anyway the songs don’t lack for energy either, and in particular the version of ‘Racing In The Street’ is one of the best.

As recommended as it gets.

originally published as a post to the ‘Head-Fi’ music forum

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