Bruce Springsteen: The Ties That Bind – The River Collection - Boxset Review

Fri, Nov 20, 2015, 00:00


The Ties That Bind: The River Collection

Bruce Springsteen



By October 1980, when his fifth album, The River, was released, Bruce Springsteen and his trusty E-Street Band were so hot that, in Phil Lynott’s phrase, they were steaming. The backlash to the hype over Born To Run in 1975 was a distant memory, eclipsed by critical acclaim for the brooding power of 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town and a series of legendary live shows.

But behind the curtain matters were not so rosy. Springsteen’s search for the right tone, his yearning for perfection, was driving the suits and the band to distraction. And then, finally, a single album called The Ties That Bind, after the song of the same name, was forwarded to CBS, only for Springsteen to have second thoughts and take it back. He had more songs, better songs, so many that it would have to be a double album. He was right.

The swinging bar-band sound was a surprise after the intensity of Darkness and Born To Run, but the jaunty neighbourhood pop of the likes of Sherry Darling and Hungry Heart helped obscure a more ominous narrative summed up in the haunting closing track, Wreck on the Highway.

The road was no escape, there was no happy ever after. Springsteen, turning 30, was also moving beyond his New Jersey shore heartland. Independence Day was about father/son but also about place and being “brought up to do the things your daddy done”, the fate of the male character in the key title track inspired by his sister’s experience.

The River is a sprawling album, flawed but deeply felt and emotionally resonant. It is about family, about friends, about himself. It marks the end of one life and the beginning of another. It is the bridge to the stark Nebraska and the universalism of Born in the USA and it is also worthy of this lavish production.

The box set includes the original double album, plus the single album that was pulled, and 22 other tracks from the same time, 12 not heard before, mostly good songs but crucially not better.

It also includes three DVDs of live footage and a documentary on the recording, all of which I’ve yet to see, though clips look promising.