This Bruce Springsteen article was written by Jack Dodd, a GIGsoup contributer. Edited by Stephen Butchard.
Bruce Springsteen is not a man who does things by halves. His live performances regularly run over the three, or even four hour mark. His backing group, The E Street Band, is made up of a plethora of brilliant musicians and his albums are emotive, powerful stories of the dark and light of working class America. His 1980 double album ‘The River’ followed this narrative and was the third album on a run of five stone wall classics, which started with ‘Born to Run’ in 1975 and finished with ‘Born in the U.S.A’ in 1984. Upon its original release, ‘The River’ was critically praised and sold a huge amount of copies. At the time, it gave Springsteen his highest Billboard charting single with ‘Hungry Heart’ (#5) and arguably produced his greatest ever lyric: “I got Mary pregnant and man, that was all she wrote / and for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.”
However, when an artist releases a double album, the question that is always raised is whether it would have been better as a single record. The answer in this case is a resounding no. Although it is not regarded as a concept album, the contrasting arc that takes place in the album would have been less effective and resounding if it had been sliced in half.
Of the ten tracks on the first side of ‘The River’, only two (the title track and ‘Independence Day’) have a downbeat feel. As it moves into the second side, the album becomes much darker and depressing – almost a showcase for the night on the town followed by the unrelenting hangover. With the release of’ ‘The Tides That Bind: The River Collection’, the amount of songs that Springsteen was writing at this time can be fully appreciated. It’s been said that at his peak Dylan was writing ten songs a day; the Boss can’t have been far behind.
This new collection provides an epic amount. Not including the original double release, there is a total of thirty two tracks. The truly astounding fact is that they are all of a high standard and would have been suitable replacements on the 1980 release.
First up is the original single album which Springsteen handed into Columbia before deciding to extend the album into a double. The more piano driven version of ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘Loose Ends’ are the highlights. ‘Loose Ends’ stands out in particular with its catchy repeated guitar line from Stevie Van Zandt and a lush saxophone solo from Clarence Clemons.
Moving on to the outtakes, ‘Meet Me in the City’ is a rhythmic bullet train and it is baffling how it didn’t open up let alone make the cut of the double release. The piano intro to ‘Night Fire’ sounds like the beginning of a dance track before the drums kick in, and ‘Stray Bullet’ is a melancholic heartbreak that comes close to the scintillating ‘Racing in the Street’ from ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’.
Finally, there is the eleven previously unheard tracks, and of these the standouts are ‘Restless Nights’ which has perfect instrumentation and a fantastic backing harmony,’“Roulette’ which has an intro that sounds like Queen at their best and the twelve bar blues stomp From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)’. On top of all this, an added bonus of the collection is the live footage from Tempe, Arizona in 1981 which many consider to be Springsteen’s finest ever concert.
‘The Ties That Bind: The River Collection’ has turned the river into an ocean of material and it is one that should be leapt into with glee.
‘The Ties that Bind: the River Collection’ is out now via Columbia Records.