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Bruce Springsteen's manager says "Darkness" box helps to "re-live" storied album

of the Oakland Press

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Bruce Springsteen has tested the box set waters before — with “Live/1975-85” in 1986, the “Tracks” outtakes collection in 1998 and the “Born to Run 30th Anniversary Edition” in 2005.

But his 1978 album “Darkness on the Edge of Town” was particularly ripe for a more extensive treatment.

“The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story” (Columbia) packages the original album with 21 previously unreleased tracks — ranging from outtakes to alternate versions of “Darkness” songs — a documentary on the making of the album and two DVDs’ worth of vintage and contemporary live footage. “We really had forgotten about most of the stuff,” says Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, who co-produced the original “Darkness” as well as the new box set, “and we started getting immersed in it and we just got deeper and deeper into it.

“And one of the great things about doing (‘The Promise’) was the ability to re-live that part of the past without as much angst as we experienced at the time.”

“Darkness” was a difficult album because Springsteen was embroiled in a lawsuit with his original manager, Mike Appel, at the time and was barred from entering the recording studio. But that didn’t stop him from writing, and the array of unreleased material on “The Promise” testifies to how prolific the New Jersey rocker was during that interim.

Landau notes that those songs, which have also been released separately as “The Promise (The Lost Session: Darkness on the Edge of Town),” comprise “the album I think might have come between ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Darkness’ if he had not been locked out of the studio for those couple of years. These songs connect to each other; they’re just part of a different record than the one he wanted to make.”

In fact, Landau adds, the time Springsteen spent writing but not recording allowed him to hone in on exactly what he wanted “Darkness” to sound like.

“They all had certain characteristics ... that caused Bruce to not want to use them,” he explains. “They were a little too poppy. They were a little too genre-ish ... He wanted to find a voice that was purely his own, and that was the ‘Darkness’ album. But now when you go back and listen to all that (unreleased) stuff ... It’s all great. I’m not looking at them as outtakes. We really do look at this as a lost album.”

Springsteen fans are, of course clamoring for similarly expanded versions of his other albums, but Landau says “The Promise” is likely to be a singularly special kind of project.

“The documentary is the centerpiece,” he notes, “and ... we don’t have that (studio) footage again until we get to the last decade. So we have nothing analogous for ‘The River’ or ‘Nebraska’ or ‘Born in the USA’ or ‘Tunnel of Love.’ We do have music, and we dealt with a great deal of it on ‘Tracks.’ But there’s more to come.

“I’m sure there will be a ‘Tracks 2’ at some point, but this particular (‘Darkness ...’) music we didn’t want to subsume under that type of concept because this music really knit together. It is not a random collection of songs, and I think this is the largest number of usable song that we generated from any one project. I don’t know that the other (albums) will feel the same way as this felt. We have to get into those and see.”

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