Bruce Springsteen - The Ties That Bind (Boxset, Sony Music) 1

Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind (Boxset, Sony Music)

Springteen-The-Ties-That-BindThe Ties That Bind is a beautifully packaged seven disc boxset of four audio CDs, a stunning hardback photographic memoir of The River era Bruce Springsteen (featuring sleevenotes from journalist Mikal Gilmore and an intro by the man himself), and three DVDs, comprising a rousing 1980 show at Tempe, Arizona and, perhaps best of all, a fascinating documentary that runs just short of an hour.

Springsteen’s superstar quality is cemented within minutes of the latter film’s opening credits, as he delivers a peerless, stripped back acoustic version of album favourite ‘Two Hearts‘. Despite the poignant magnificence of this reading, what follows is a humble reminder that the man has had plenty of his own demons in the past and that he has not always inhabited the unflappable, infallible persona with which he is generally associated. Indeed, many of his own insecurities are what shaped The River in the first place, albeit through fictional, semi-autobiographical characters.

That Springsteen bravely chose to begin that incendiary show at Tempe with ‘Born To Run‘ though – at that point in his career, his best known song – just illustrates the strength of his conviction in his own songwriting prowess. He would be proved right time and again, of course, and what follows is the type of explosive, value for money celebration of life that would exemplify the live nature of his shows for the next thirty years and more.

The first two discs here are the original double album, remastered. Now, I’ll level with you here, I’m not always the best at noticing the subtle – or even unsubtle – differences where remasters are concerned. The contrast between the 1981 release and this one, however, couldn’t be greater – everything is crystal clear and, while you might think that the loss of the muddy nuance which permeated the thirty four year old album would perhaps lessen its impact, the truth is that it only enhances the aural experience by showcasing the E Street Band‘s sheer, raw exuberance.

There seems little point in my pontificating too heavily on the merits of the double album itself – ‘Stolen Car‘ still smoulders with a helpless, aching beauty, as does the gritty realism of the tragic but magnificent ‘Wreck On The Highway‘ that draws the final curtain, whereas the likes of ‘Sherry Darling‘ and ‘Out On The Street‘ still crackle and fizz with the energy of an E Street Band right at the peak of their powers. The River has been talked up many times as a real turning point in Bruce’s career, and this remaster merely serves to hammer the point home; it remains a remarkable album capable of changing people’s lives even now.

The third disc is the original single album submitted to the record company but shelved in favour of creating a more cohesive narrative. Most of the tunes don’t veer too far from their finally realised versions, though here ‘The Ties That Bind‘ itself seems oddly regimented, Bruce merely going through the motions vocally. The greatness of the song still shines, but it is easy to see why the re-recorded take was preferred.

The fabulous rockabilly version of ‘You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)‘ must have been a real wrench to leave off, being an absolute hoot and probably the highlight of the disc but, being the perfectionist that he is, chose the recording that seemed the better ‘fit’. Indeed, Springsteen has always maintained that those that failed to find a home amongst The River‘s tracklisting were the ones that felt like they belonged on a different album. ‘Be True‘ and ‘Cindy‘ are testament to his conviction: big tunes both, but you feel that somehow, their inclusion would have stultified its flow.

Loose End‘, for instance, is a pleasant enough song, but not quite impactful enough to be the showstopping force initially conceived as the finale. Had this version of The River been sanctioned, there’s no doubt that we would still consider it as a strong album. Thankfully though, Bruce had the temerity to turn the album into a double one and make it a bona fide classic.

Amongst the treasure trove of riches on offer here, the disc that will have true connoisseurs clamouring over hot coals is the fourth one, for it includes nigh on a dozen previously unreleased tracks from this period. Quite frankly, it’s incredible that some of these songs were discarded. One suspects that any aspiring songwriter, who hears what Springsteen deems as cast-offs, would be driven to burning their guitar, taking a vow of silence and taking up pilgrimage in a mountain cave somewhere.

Chain Lightning‘ is the pick of the bunch, beginning like The B-52’sPlanet Claire‘ and becoming a dirty little greaseball of a tune, sinisterly intense and utterly thrilling. And if you wanted to capture the essence of Springsteen in one song, you need look no further than ‘Party Lights‘. But there are many standout moments here; the first half of disc four being made up of the aforementioned unreleased numbers; and the second half having already been made available to the public on the compilation ‘Tracks‘.

All in all, this is an outstanding release of my second favourite Springsteen album (Nebraska, before you ask), and each disc within this boxset merely serves to showcase all that is great about The Boss, but isn’t afraid to show his darker side. A truly seminal release if ever there was one.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.