In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the release of his 1978 masterpiece, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen has just released The Promise. This long-awaited set features twenty-two previously unreleased songs, which had their genesis during the turbulent three-year period between the Born To Run and Darkness albums. They are now available as part of deluxe dvd and blu-ray box sets, on a double cd, and on the three-record vinyl set reviewed today.
The Promise delivers twenty-two previously unreleased songs (one as a hidden track). Some of the tracks, like Fire or Because The Night, you're already familiar with--but many others, you've never heard. And never before has Springsteen's love of Sixities era Motown and pop music been more apparent, than it is on these tracks. Although many hardcore fans of The Boss will undoubtedly want this set, I think that his less hardcore longtime followers may enjoy it even more. As with the Exile on Main St deluxe set, released earlier this year, which also contained previously unreleased material, there are definitely present-day vocals and instrumental overdubs that have been added to these Darkness-era recordings.
|(Bruce Springsteen, photo by Frank Stefanko)|
To those hardcore fans who have heard these songs for years via bootlegs, this could prove a frustrating listen as they hear these new parts--perhaps, feeling that the songs lack the emotion of the bootlegs. But for nearly everyone else, this set of twenty-two "lost songs" will prove a thrilling listen--and should rival nearly anything else Springsteen has released during the past twenty years.
The three 180 gram vinyl discs were beautifully pressed and feature period-correct Columbia labels, and are housed in a bare bones unipack cover made of regular weight card stock. The inner sleeves feature photos, credits, and song lyrics for all but one hidden track not listed in the credits or on the labels. Each disc played quietly from start to finish, with virtually no noise to speak of. While Robert Ludwig is given the mastering credit for the album, no separate vinyl cutting or mastering engineer is listed. Included with the vinyl package is a code for a **free digital download of the album, which unfortunately is still not working as of this writing.
**11/23/10 Update: The 320 kbps digital files can now be downloaded at: www.myplaydigital.com/thepromise
So, while I wasn't able to compare the sound of the mp3 files to the vinyl, I suspect that the vinyl will sound marginally better based upon the higher bitrate--and also depending upon your system. Although the $54 list price of this vinyl set is rather high, I've already seen it steeply discounted--and for those concerned with cost, the two-cd package is certainly modestly priced.
The sound is slightly better than one might expect from a Bruce Springsteen release, with the 2007 effort, Magic setting a low point with its maximized and compressed sound. The Promise's overall eq tends toward the warm side, with simpler compositions, such as Fire sounding best. And while some of the album's faster, more complex compositions do favor that squashed sound, it does not predominate the way it did on Magic. Given Springsteen's continued affinity for the Spectorian Wall-of-Sound, there is little a mastering engineer could do anyway, without significantly changing the character of the songs.
This very nicely pressed three-record set from The Boss contains nearly three albums worth of material, conceived at his creative peak. All but the most stubborn purist will want it.