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The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story

Long lost treasures from the boss

Rating: 9 / 10

Peter Murphy, 01 Dec 2010

For many Bruce diehards, Darkness on the Edge of Town is the holy grail. Born To Run had the grandeur and got the glory, but there was something about the stark anger and alienation of its follow-up that struck a chord, which resonated way deeper than pop music should. The record’s only flaw was that it was too short. As is pointed out in Thom Zimny’s accompanying DVD documentary, Bruce wrote nine songs for Born To Run and dropped one. For Darkness he wrote 70-odd and picked ten.

The Promise, containing some 21 unreleased songs alongside the original album, and three films; it tells the whole story of those sessions, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. 32 years after the fact, the material perfectly encapsulates the present day’s sense of desperation, disillusionment, betrayal -- and guarded hope. Everyone’s wearing dark glasses, but there’s nothing left to lose.

This secret history opens with an alternate version of ‘Racing In The Street’ that is full-blooded and defiant where the released one was broken and melancholic. Believe it or not, it’s markedly superior. Again and again on The Promise we find Bruce tempting untouchable sweethearts out after dark to snatch moments of grace from the shadows. The band conjure Spectorish memories of sweeter, more innocent years, while their leader channels Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Robert Mitchum, Tamla Motown, Jim Thompson and Martin Sheen in Badlands. The result sounds innocent and embittered, anthemic and dispirited, often all at once.

That the original album’s title echoed James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’ was surely intentional. Here’s a monochrome landscape populated by fugitives and lovers, people caught in places they’re not supposed to be, looking for things they’re not supposed to want. It’s a record about forbidden things, broken things, people who’ve had their noses bloodied by harsh realities, men and women who can’t bear to look at each other, other men and women who can’t keep their hands off each other. But there’s also the promise of love in a time of, if not cholera, then spiritual hypothermia – songs like ‘Save My Love’ or ‘Spanish Eyes’ or ‘The Little Things (My Baby Does)’ or ‘Someday (We’ll Be Together)’.

There are occasional breaks in the intensity: the old soul shuffle of ‘Ain’t Good Enough For You’ or the hot flushes of ‘Fire’, a chart hit for The Pointer Sisters. And most unexpected of all, ‘Candy’s Boy’, a country pop number that uses the first verse of ‘Candy’s Room’ (Bruce’s most underrated song, an epic tale of obsession crammed into two minutes and 51 seconds) over a different melody, chord structure and arrangement. There’s also a stunning version of ‘Factory’ called ‘Come On (Let’s Go Tonight)’, an Orbisonian beauty called ‘Breakaway’, and of course ‘Because The Night’, revealed at last in all its panavision.

The Promise is the sound of a devotional rock ‘n roller giving it everything he’s got, the kind of record Scorsese might’ve made if he’d picked up a guitar instead of a 16mm camera. Worth every minute of the wait.

Key Track: ‘Someday (We’ll Be Together)’

Rating: 9 / 10
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