The Ties That Bind: The River Single Album

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


It’s fun to discover classic albums long after their release. Sure, millions of others may have already listened to it, but gosh darn it, I haven’t yet! As much as I loved particular Bruce Springsteen albums, I hadn’t actually give his full discography much of a run. Sure, I had hit up the “big three” so to speak (Born To Run, Born In The USA, and Nebraska), but guess what? Turns out there are other Springsteen records, too! Who would have thunk it?

Truth be told, I have had nearly as much fun delving into the background and recording history of Springsteen’s work almost as much as the music itself. The man practically defined the word prolific; the sheer number of quality outtakes and cut songs he’s eventually released over the years is mind boggling. So when it came to a further examination of The River, Bruce’s 1980 double album of renown, lo and behold, it turns out that at one point during the recording of the record, Springsteen actually submitted a single disc version to the label. He retracted that submission after a change of heart, but there is definitely an alternate timeline where The River simply would not have existed, and instead The Ties That Bind would have been The Boss’s follow-up to 1978’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for you...but I’m decidedly happy that Springsteen took this album back into the studio. The sprawling nature of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The River, with its massive tonal shifts and subtle foreshadowing of what was to come with Nebraska, was a necessary palate cleanser after the refined intensity that was Darkness On The Edge Of Town. With this version, it’s not hard to understand Springsteen’s decision; he always strives to find a theme or common thread that runs through his records, and The Ties That Bind is a little slight in that regard.

The album highlights shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If they were a standout on the double album version, then it would stand to reason they’d accomplish the same on a single LP. “Hungry Heart” and “The River” are two of Springsteen’s stone cold classics, and they are presented on The Ties That Bind in the forms that we have come to know and love them in.

Springsteen’s love of ‘50s rock and roll really shines through on this release. “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” is presented as a Jerry Lee Lewis rave up rocker, differing from its garage rock version on the final version of The River. The previously unreleased “Cindy” is a fun little throwback to those sugar-coated unrequited love singles of the decade; I’d argue it should have made the cut when it came time to assemble The River.

But what’s truly missing here is the sense of scale and story telling that songs like “Independence Day” demonstrated, as well as the E Street Band getting to cut loose and lay down some rockers. “Two Hearts,” “Jackson Cage,” and “Sherry Darling” are concert staples and capture the live feel that Springsteen was trying to replicate in the studio. I’d take the first seven tracks of what became The River and replace most of what was on The Ties That Bind. That’s not to say the songs are terrible or unworthy, but Springsteen showed that waiting a little bit longer and going back into the studio was the smart decision.

It would be a fascinating time travel experiment to see how Springsteen’s career would have progressed had The Ties That Bind seen a release instead of its eventual, superior sequel The River. There are a few that consider the record to be his best, and while I’m not one of them, it did provide Bruce a bridge to Born In The USA in terms of adopting a more intentionally pop driven sound and subject matter. The River allowed Springsteen to actually have some fun on a record, something that wasn’t necessarily the case in his prior effort. The space and time that a double album provides was a perfect fit for The Boss at this particular moment in his career. The Ties That Bind would have been a step in that direction, but not the full effort that was required.

Rating: B-

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