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"Tracks [Reissue]"

Bruce Springsteen – Tracks [Reissue]
23 September 2013, 14:30 Written by Matt Tomiak

A bumper four disc, 66-track outtake/rarity/b-side collection – aka the stuff all those hardcore Springsteen fanatics request via hand-written signs at shows – Tracks is one sturdy box set. Described by Bruce himself in the liner notes as a batch of ‘some of the ones that got away’, it was originally released in 1998, but has been out of print for many years. How the listener responds to the marked variations in tone and quality will depend on where they stand on Bruce Springsteen to begin with.

“Bruce Springsteen, Columbia Pop Audition, Job Number 79682” intones storied Columbia head honcho John Hammond at the start of the opening disc by way of introduction to ‘Mary Queen of Arkansas’, the first in a sequence of crackly renditions of songs from Springsteen’s debut Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. It’s all earnest self-mythologizing and Catholic guilt at this raw stage, with Bruce sounding heartbreakingly young as he confesses to being “just a boy” on ‘It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.’

The mood lightens considerably during the looser cuts taken from the subsequent The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle era. Cars and girls are by now of greater concern than the solemn establishment of any ‘New Bob Dylan’ credential s, although it’s interesting that any unused material from Springsteen’s mainstream breakthrough Born To Run recordings are barely represented here at all. Other highlights include ‘Seaside Bar Song’, a live version of ‘Rendezvous’ and the Clarence Clemons sax showcases ‘Zero and Blind Terry’ and ‘So Young and In Love.’

Disc 2 covers the stylistic and tonal ebb and flow of Bruce in the early 80s, so there’s raucous good-time rockers like ‘Living on the Edge of the World’ and ‘Take ‘Em As They Come’ vying for space with a sombre, acoustic rockabilly version of ‘Born In The USA’. The latter is one of the hoard’s most intriguing moments.

The third disc (consisting mainly of BITUSA outtakes) is easily the most accessible of the bunch, reflecting Springsteen’s commercial zenith, with Roy Bittan’s insistent synth hook on opener ‘Cynthia’ only slightly less catchy than the one featured on breakthrough hit ‘Dancing in the Dark.’ ‘This Hard Land’ ranks amongst the finest Bruce tracks never to make it on a studio album proper, and along with fellow CD2 high points ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ and the sultry ‘Pink Cadillac’, it still regularly finds its way into live sets. It’s not all fun and games, though, with ‘Man at the Top’ providing a circumspect hint at what was to follow Springsteen’s ascent to mega-stardom, namely the brooding, transitional (and very good) Tunnel of Love album.

The fourth and final disc is largely culled from the Human Touch sessions; a 1992 LP recorded without the E Street Band and widely considered Springsteen’s worst by most fans. Simpering, glossy soft-rock dominates, and, unsurprisingly, very few of these songs have ever been performed in concert. The last segment remains at least slightly noteworthy due to the inclusion of forgotten 1990 single ‘Sad Eyes’ (later improbably covered by Enrique Iglesias) and a rare Bruce lyrical profanity uttered during ‘Loose Change.’

Truly, there’s a whole lotta Boss here. ‘Tracks’ contains far more than any casual fan would surely be able to stomach in a series of sittings, let alone one single go. Much of this vast stockpile, particularly the 90s output featured on the last CD, is far from indispensable. Still, there’s plenty for anyone with more than a passing interest in one of rock’s most resilient careers to get stuck into, spread over four hours of music.

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