Sound — 8
There is always that one instance within a rock
icon's life where it seems impossible to live up to past success. Bruce Springsteen was no exception following the release of 1975's Born To Run, the wildly popular album that helped The Boss skyrocket to a whole new playing field. The 1978 follow-up record Darkness on the Edge of Town was never quite met with the same fanfare critically or commercially and perhaps for that reason Springsteen is devoting his latest box set to the oft-forgotten record. The Promise is a 2-CD album comprised of unreleased songs from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, but it's also being released as a box set that includes the original studio full-length. In 2010 it still doesn't have the instantaneous wow factor that Born To Run had, but the new/old collection is still comprised of a medley of Springsteen's assorted sounds. It's wise to take a listen to the box set's disk featuring the original Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is not a bad starting point when jumping in to the unreleased material. In many ways that one disk does feature most of the box set's standout material, with the dark and bluesy Adam Raised A Cain, the ode to blue collar workers in Factory, and the rhythmic nuances of Candy's Room being the highlights. Prove It All Night is an energetic number that foreshadowed the sound that the vast majority of Springsteen tunes take nowadays, with piano and sax playing prominent roles in the arrangement. When you venture into the unreleased material three decades after the original sessions, there still aren't any grandiose/genius new tracks that got swept under the rug. In the same breath, there is enough material included that you will at the very least find more than a few enjoyable. Tracks on the first disk like Gotta Get That Feelin,' Outside Looking In, Someday (We'll Be Together), and One Way Street are written with a nod to an early Motown style, for balladry and general upbeat arrangements. The piano and sax play prominent roles on the vast majority of disk 1, and in many ways that repeated format only allows Springsteen's sound to go so far. They're impressive, but not necessarily that stylistically varied. Two familiar tunes (thanks to their association with other artists) show up on The Promise. The first is Patti Smith's Because of the Night, and Springsteen's version unfortunately pales in comparison to the raw emotion heard in the original. Fire, a Springsteen-penned track perhaps most widely known because of The Pointer Sisters' cover, is once again surprisingly lackluster. The sound is rich with layered instrumentation on both, but they still lack passion. It's usually Springsteen's slower numbers that are accentuated by the singer/songwriter's incredible knack at vivid storytelling (The Promise, City of Night) that truly work to his strengths. In general, however, Springsteen fans should probably enjoy the box set from start to finish because it keeps with the standard Springsteen fare that you still hear today at one of his live performances.
Lyrics — 9
Even when the musical foundation fails to go anywhere new, Springsteen's lyrics usually swoop in to save the day. When the songwriter delves into the personal heartbreak of the regular Joe or Jane, that's when you feel he's connecting on a fairly grand level. The Promise is easily the most moving out of all the tracks with lines such as, Some nights I go to the drive-in, or some nights I stay home; I followed that dream just like those guys do up on the screen; And I drive a Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes; And when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my dream. Sure, Springsteen has more than a few typical lighthearted love songs in the collection, but even those contain little lyrical gems around every corner.
Overall Impression — 8
The Promise perhaps still doesn't live up to the legendary status of Born To Run, but it's still a fantastic peek at the creativity within Springsteen in '78. Notable tracks like Because The Night and Fire fail to satisfy, but between the folk-influenced ballads and upbeat, old school rock tunes you're likely to find at least a few tracks with which you'll connect. The Promise is definitely geared toward the Springsteen fanatics in the end, and it's that fan base that will be able to relish the fact that throwaway tracks have been given another chance to be heard.