Springsteen shines new light on 'Darkness'
Fans of Bruce Springsteen will likely have several reactions once they've had the chance to dip into the vast amount of material found on The Boss' new deluxe box set, "The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story."
There will be a sense of wonder inspired by some of the songs. There will be a sense of satisfaction in knowing that this highly prolific period of Springsteen's career has been properly documented and that his masterful 1978 album, "Darkness On The Edge of Town," is being put on the same pedestal as its predecessor, "Born To Run," which many fans have felt it always deserved. And, there might even be sense of confusion, as in "How on earth did some of this stuff stay locked in the vaults for 32 years?"
The set includes six discs, including a digitally re-mastered version of the original album. A second CD, a double-disc set, "The Promise," features unreleased tracks and alternate versions of songs from the "Darkness" sessions. And though a handful of the tunes have been heard in different incarnations, it is, for the most part, an entirely new listening experience. Highlights include "Racing In The Streets ('78)," "Candy's Boy," a different take on "Candy's Room" and "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)," an earlier version of "Factory" that offers the haunting lyric, "The man on the radio said Elvis Presley died." Also included are Springsteen's first recordings of "Fire" and "Because The Night," which were later famously recorded by others.
Still, it's not just hearing how some of Springsteen's greatest songs were initially recorded that makes "The Promise" such a treasure. It's also packed with recordings never released before, including "Ain't Good Enough For You," a marvelous foot-stomping pop number that makes one long for a good night of roadhouse rock. The stunner, however, is the title track. "The Promise" is a song that beautifully exemplifies the type of tour de force songwriter and storyteller Springsteen had become by the mid-'70s, and it's easy to see why it was chosen as the centerpiece of the set.
And then there are the videos.
A concert, filmed in Asbury Park, N.J., in 2009, features the E Street Band tearing through "Darkness" in its entirety. It's a torrid performance filled with zeal and fervor, and as one watches it, one can't help but notice how Springsteen — an artist that has always looked forward — seemed to be fully embracing his musical past on this particular night. In fact, he did more than embrace and revisit it. He passionately reclaimed "Darkness," song for song, note for note.
There's also a documentary film, "The Promise: The Making of Darkness On The Edge Of Town," which includes footage of the E Street Band in the studio cutting tracks. The group's members also share their memories of the album, discussing everything from the wealth of material Springsteen had brought into the sessions, to the legal issues surrounding Springsteen's music at the time, to the troubles they initially encountered in mixing the record.
Finally, there's a full three-hour concert shot in Houston in 1978. It's called the "Bootleg House Cut," but don't be fooled. There's nothing bootleg about it. It's professionally filmed, has perfect sound, and is unquestionably one of the most remarkable things to ever come out of the Springsteen vaults. The band simply kills it on numbers such as "Prove It All Night," and the group was already displaying its ability to make its songs even more interesting in the live setting than on the record.
Springsteen has shocked fans before when he's chosen to unveil some of his previously unreleased material. His 1986 box set, "Live/1975-85," featured a decade's worth of inspired live recordings, and his 1998 box set, "Tracks," offered studio castaways dating back more than 25 years and revealed material so strong that many wondered how the songs ever could have been kept off the albums for which they were intended. But for Springsteen, the answer could always be found in that simple word: album. He's always seen albums as one body of work, not just a collection of tracks. A sense of cohesiveness always remained paramount, and no matter how good even he might have felt a song was, if it didn't fit the feel of the album, it was not included.
Ultimately, "The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story," which comes in eye-popping notebook-style packaging, reveals that Springsteen made the right decisions when crafting the record. And perhaps that's the true beauty of the set. You get the final "Darkness" masterpiece, sounding better than ever, as well as everything else that else helped shape it, including long lost tracks that, for most other artists, would have been viewed as some of their best work. And, you can get a glimpse into the creative artistry of one of the greatest songwriters of our time.