Still a tough old town

Fri, Nov 12, 2010, 00:00

CD Choice: The Promise Sony ****

In a short interview on his website, Bruce Springsteen makes it plain that to understand his 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, you have to understand the period in which it was recorded. He talks about the movies that were popular then, citing Martin Scorsese’s ominous Taxi Driver, but he doesn’t speak of himself and the changes he was going through, except in generalities.

The Promise is a double CD assembled from the bits and pieces that didn’t make it onto that pivotal album. It’s easy to see why, at this remove, these songs didn’t make the final cut. It is not so much that they are poor relations (there are some mighty vintage Springsteen tracks here) but Darkness, as he makes plain in the interview, went through the wringer: songs, versions, cover art changed as he sought to create something that mirrored the profound changes he, and the world around him, were going through.

Springsteen was edging towards 30; he was a rock

star who had just survived a career-threatening lawsuit, and the chains he thought his characters had loosened in 1975’s Born to Run were still firmly attached. The resignation of Racing in the Street is the reality check for Born to Run’s upstart, working-class escapism. Interestingly, Springsteen binned another, more explicit answer song (The Promise), which updates in grim tones the innocent heroes of Born to Run’s Thunder Road.

Everything about Darkness, from the title to the songs, from the apprehensive cover portrait to the sombre colour palette, points to a wary, questioning, worldview. Yet the live shows of the time were an unbridled celebration, a rollercoaster of light and shade. Many of the more romantic, playful, pop songs of The Promise would have been at home in those epic sets. Indeed, the blend on 1981’s The River would match a combination of Darkness and The Promise.

But Springsteen knew what he wanted, and so the swinging good-time, bar-band, pop-soul of Ain’t Good Enough for You, the mesmeric faux tragedy of The Brokenhearted, the swollen Orbisonesqe pop epic Someday (We’ll Be Together) and 18 others had to wait 32 years for their day in the sun. They are worth the wait.

This double album is also included in The Promise box set, a collection of three CDs and three DVDs, including a documentary on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. See brucespringsteen. net