Music

Bruce Springsteen: The Promise

The bright pop experiments and love songs that populate The Promise are more intimate than Darkness on the Edge of Town, but they're also more playful.


Bruce Springsteen

The Promise

US Release: 2010-11-16
Label: Columbia
UK Release: import
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

The Wiz-bang Gang. Shut down strangers. Hot rod angels. Madman drummers. Bummers. Indians in the summer. Springsteen's songs have no shortage of castaways, outliers, vagrants, people on the run. But most of the time these wanderers are banded together in loosely assembled groups, given punchy names by the Boss, and made to speed or stumble or break down all over his albums.

Darkness on the Edge of Town may have been short on group names -- save those hot rod angels from "Racing in the Streets" -- but its characters still wandered the musical landscape, trying to break through or come to terms with something far bigger than themselves. The trudge of life in a place you want to leave ("Badlands"), a lineage of suffering ("Adam Raised a Cain"), the work-a-day week ("Factory"), even the impossible darkness of the night itself ("Something in the Night") -- it was all there to fear, to battle against, to defeat in some small way. The E Street band, behind Springsteen, matched the album's cosmic worry with its own vacation in the stratosphere. These songs were big -- arguably bigger than the anthems on Born to Run -- but unafraid to show the spores of rust under the racing stripes. They were sleek, but they were beautifully weary.

The Promise, however, the new two-disc collection of outtakes from the Darkness sessions, is another beast entirely. In fact, maybe it's not a beast. What it is is something far more intimate than Darkness, but also more playful. That big world bearing down on Springsteen and his speakers seems to have abated on these songs, leaving the Boss to pine over lost love. These are very much songs about "her" and "me", and not very much about "us", and while these 22 tracks might not catch the same fire Darkness did, there is still a striking cohesion and consistency to this collection.

There are alternate takes of tracks, and the best of them is "Racing in the Streets". A bit dustier than its album version, this one feels more like a stomping full band than the spacious, piano-y cut that made Darkness, and the buzzing intensity here might actually outdo the original. Elsewhere, "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)" is an early take on "Factory" with wholly different lyrics. The feel, however, remains pretty much the same with discussion of men walking around "with death in their eyes", and people headed to a party down the road to escape, if for a night.

The Promise feels, despite those inclusions, like a totally separate entity from Darkness. It has the same soul underpinnings as the record that rose out of it, but there's more genre-hopping here, and certainly a lighter tone overall. Without the world bearing down, the land still plays a key role in these songs, but it’s the speaker's heart -- young and raw as it is -- that gets an intimate, almost insular, focus in these tracks.

Take "Outside Looking In", for example. Springsteen shouts out the songs with his typical blue-collar vitriol, but the sentiment -- "I'm on the outside looking in" -- feels more isolated and self-pitying than most of his early work. The sad-sack persona plays here, though, as it does in the heartbroken turns like "One Way Street" or, well, "The Brokenhearted". Similarly, an early take on "Candy's Room" (here called "Candy's Boy") lacks the eccentric, troubled speak-singing of the original version, instead playing out here in shimmering, dreamy pop.

"Pop". Maybe that's the word for what's going on in The Promise. The band tightens up and avoids the atmosphere it usually builds for true, and vibrant, takes on established pop and soul modes. "Ain't Good Enough for You" plays like a Sam Cooke cover, while "Someday (We'll Be Together)" could be a Frankie Valle 45, if it were slowed to 33 1/3 speed. The band's ability to seamlessly execute these sounds shows their impressive range. The best moments here, though, still imbue the track with something freshly theirs -- like the soft crunch of the Redding-cum-E-Street shuffle of "Fire".

The true standouts on The Promise, however, bridge that gap between those pop experiments and the sonic heft of Darkness. "Because the Night" -- later made famous by Patti Smith -- is the most fiery performance here, matching the band's late-70's muscle with this newer heartache. The title track matches Darkness's moody size blow for blow, and tells a beautiful trademark Springsteen tale of hard work and lost dreams.

That song also makes a case for exactly why these songs didn't make Darkness. The Promise is surely a consistently solid listen all the way through -- with flashes of brilliance that give us a new angle on this time in the band's history. In comparison to what did get released back in 1978, though, these songs don't seem to have quite as much at stake, and the smaller scope and mid-tempo churn of these songs bears that out. In the end, The Promise hits a ceiling just below what you'd call essential listening, but it's still more than just a fan-only release. These 22 songs show a band at the height of their powers stretching out and trying new things, indulging in their musical loves to bright and catchy results. But we've come to know that band and how good they can be, so while to hear them come back from that month in the stratosphere is a refreshing change of pace, The Promise still falls a notch below the band's best work.

7
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.