Poster design by John Stewart Anderson for Shell Oil, 1935
I'm going to try to keep this brief because I am ashamed that I know next to nothing about Bruce Springsteen, but I wanted to do a brief write-up of The Promise - mostly to say that I'm really, really enjoying it. Ostensibly a 2-disc set of the outtakes from the sessions for 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town, I have trouble seeing this as a "for fans only" release. For me (a music fan so leery of Springsteen that I only own [but dearly love] Nebraska), this is a double album that exceeds all my expectations of how good Springsteen's music could be. I'm familiar with Born to Run, the album that, frankly, is responsible for me thinking that Springsteen is not for me, and these songs come from the period directly after that album's huge success. So I shouldn't like these songs, right?
But I don't think that it's really the songs on Born to Run that I have an issue with - they're great - it's the production and the arrangements. The songs on The Promise have a fleshed-out but very clean sound (admittedly, with some recent additions and punch-ins that Springsteen added in preparing these songs for this release) - it's the pop traditionalism that makes these songs so accessible. It's almost like Springsteen is channeling the Brill Building writers of the '60s that he revered. In fact, his influences are pretty obvious everywhere on The Promise - they must be, because I'm not good at spotting influences, but I'm hearing Roy Orbison, Phil Spector, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley all over these songs.
I'll admit that, at first, some of the lyrics on The Promise rubbed me a little wrong - the songs are so replete with kids in love, convertibles, main drags, and factories that they sounded like parodies of Springsteen's songwriting. But there's no denying that the man can write a memorable song, and these nitpicks fade from my mind when I listen to these songs, whether they be goofy upbeat numbers ("Gotta Get That Feeling", "Ain't Good Enough For You"), cooing ballads ("The Brokenhearted", "Come On (Let's Go Tonight)"), early versions of songs that ended up on Darkness on the Edge of Town ("Racing in the Street", "Candy's Boy"), or unreleased versions of songs that turned into hits for other artists ("Because the Night", "Fire").
Moreover, these songs are distributed among the two discs of The Promise with a sequencing that basically gives you two complete, balanced Springsteen records. It all culminates on the second disc with "The Promise", a sequel to "Thunder Road" that I can safely say (as someone with next to no knowledge of Springsteen's discography) is among the best songs Springsteen has written. I probably don't need to mention that, as of today, Darkness on the Edge of Town andThe River are on my Christmas wish-list.
"The Promise" by Bruce Springsteen