For all his greatness, Bruce Springsteen’s official releases can be frustrating. Frustrating because some of the unreleased material outshines the actual output.
The projects below (in chronological order) represent three sterling examples of what might have been. Please note I have omitted the long-rumored ’94-’95 hip-hop project, which ranks as the most frightening potential release by a major artist ever.
The Ties that Bind: Following the lengthy lawsuit that preceded Darkness, Springsteen was determined to speed up his recording process and get records in the store more quickly. This is the result; a tight, peppy, poppy (somewhat) masterpiece that included several tracks that would turn up remixed or with different takes on “The River.” Others would show up on “Tracks,” some 20 years later. But “The Ties that Bind” shines with a clarity of purpose, immediacy, and features a stellar collection of songs – including “Loose Ends,” a definitive “Stolen Car,” the gripping first-take “The Price You Pay” with an added verse, and the underrated brilliant and slightly re-arranged “Be True” (called “To Be True” in this incarnation). All this and none of the bloatedness and tinny production of “The River.” Springsteen scrapped this as “not enough” after the No Nukes concerts in Sept. 79.
He was wrong. It was plenty enough. And essential.
“Sometimes I almost feel/Just like a human being.”
–Elvis Costello, “Lipstick Vogue,” 1978
The discovery of self, getting to know the inner you, is the very stuff of our troubled and crazy times. The growing number of support groups, the proliferation of psychotherapists, and the overwhelming and seemingly all-powerful self-help sections at bookstores attest to this fact. “Feel the pain,” sez Zippy the Pinhead as he hands a friend a box of Milk Duds just before he heads spiraling into a nervous breakdown.
Pop music abounds in such eccentric edifices of the inner self. In fact, pop music is such a refuge for so many selves in search of self that pop and rock are probably nothing more than the babble generated by a series of cathartic experiences. Many of rock’s landmark albums are probing works, painfully introspective, almost dull in fact, until you hear them in the isolation of your empty room after a long night of dark fear and sweaty terror.