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Bruce Springsteen reissues one of his best

Mac Hendrickson | Monday, November 22, 2010

For the most part, the pop culture world met Bruce Springsteen in 1984. “Born In the USA” was a heartland smash album (a little more John Cougar than Roy Orbison) that outsold anything he’d done before or would ever do. The radio-friendly work seemed to suggest that Springsteen was just “the next big thing,” not a genius. Anyone who has ever heard the first 30 seconds of “Thunder Road” knows this isn’t the case.

The fact that Springsteen had done his best work in the years leading up to 1984 is a point of frustration for Springsteen’s avid followers. “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” despite its lack of commercial success against the pop juggernaut that was “Born in the USA,” ranks among Springsteen’s best work.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary, in 2005 Springsteen re-released “Born to Run” along with a live DVD and a making-of documentary. Though pale in comparison to the “Darkness” reissue in terms of material, the reissue was a masterpiece itself. Listening to the re-mastered version was like listening to the album for the first time, every track more clear and defined. The first DVD was Springsteen’s magical performance at Hammersmith Odeon Theatre in London, and the second, a documentary about the making of an album with, debatably, the greatest back-story of any album in rock history.

So how does one overcome the expectation set by such an outstanding re-release? How about three CDs, three DVDs and a facsimile of Springsteen’s private notebook? If 10 hours plus doesn’t satisfy however deeply obsessed you are with Springsteen, I doubt anything will.

Similar to its brother, the reissue contains a re-mastered version of the album, two live DVDs and a making-of documentary. The re-mastered album isn’t considerably more illuminated than the original, though there are noticeable improvements, and the making-of documentary isn’t as entertaining as the one on “Born to Run,” though just as well done.

For “Born to Run,” Springsteen wrote eight songs, recorded eight songs and released eight songs — no outtakes and nothing left behind. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” was a different story. Coming off an emotionally exhausting lawsuit with his former manger over what would eventually become control of his career, Springsteen was broke and permitted from using the studio.

Trapped in his New Jersey home, Springsteen began writing tunes about the pain and confusion of becoming an adult. By the time he was able to hit the studio once again, Springsteen had written over 50 songs, which he mixed and matched for his 10 cohesive songs that became “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” The outtakes from these sessions are featured on the second two CDs of the set, entitled “The Promise.” “Outtake” doesn’t seem to be the proper word for these songs, however. They were cut from the album due to lack of thematic relation, not lack of significance as individual songs. In fact, even the mildest of Bruce fans will find at least a few treasures in the outtakes.

Despite the awesomeness of the extra material, the best part of the re-release is the attention it forces on the album itself. In contrast to the Spector-esque “Born to Run,” “Darkness” is sparse, open and lonely. The lyrics are the portrait of a man caught between what he wants to be and what society is forcing him to become. At the climax, he sings, “I’ll be on that hill with everything that I got.”

The future is uncertain, but he has found where he will stand at the end of it all. The album is more than 10 great songs, more than a journey. It’s nothing less than one of the finest records of all time.