Bruce Springsteen: The Ties That Bind--The River Collection

When the calendar turned to 1980, it was time for Bruce Springsteen to grow up. “How people connect and relate to one another, or don’t—I want to be a part of that, not just looking at it from the outside,” Bruce says at the outset of the new documentary on the Blu-ray Disc that lies at the very center of The Ties That Bind – The River Collection box set. And that statement is, in essence, the manifesto for the direction taken by The Boss and his merry E Street Bandmates on The River, which found the brash ’n’ brazen New Jersey singer/songwriter staring down the dawn of a new decade with a cautious combination of equal parts hope and trepidation. The River could have easily taken a wrong turn and just kept going—and, in fact, it nearly did—but Bruce held steadfast to deliver a double album that put him on a path of “writing for my age” from that point forward on each successive album.

Springsteen may in fact be the best analyst and scholar of his own work, and he’s once again granted us full audience inside his creative process on the six-disc The Ties That Bind – The River Collection, following the methodology of the previous in-deep box sets for 1975’s Born to Run (2005’s 30th Anniversary) and 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (2010’s The Promise). The Ties That Bind offers 52 tracks on four CDs along with 4 hours of video on three DVDs or two Blu-ray Discs (naturally, Blu-ray is the way to go). The first two CDs feature the remastered version of The River, the third CD is the previously unreleased 10-track The River: Single Album (i.e., the aforementioned almost “wrong turn”), and the fourth contains 22 outtakes, almost half of them unreleased. Disc 5 is the hour-long Ties documentary, and Disc 6 boasts most of one of the band’s best live shows from late-1980, plus some bonus rehearsal footage (more on that disc in a bit). Standard-resolution downloads are available from iTunes and Amazon, and 96-kHz/24-bit downloads of 10 bonus tracks are available for free at live.bruce- No word yet at press time when (or if ) vinyl will be made available.

Discs 1 and 2 comprise the 20 remastered tracks of the original double album. “Hungry Heart” is the instant crowd-pleaser, but the crux of the matter comes fast with the instant-adulthood harmonica-and-acoustic-driven title-track dirge, the last cut on Disc 1. But you’re most especially hit right between the ears with Disc 2’s haunting opener “Point Blank” (my personal all-time favorite Springsteen song). Note the insistent triangle that pulses from the left channel at its outset, then glean how Steve Van Zandt’s counter vocal always veers a millisecond or two behind Bruce’s resigned, last-stand lead vocal lines, as if he’s hissing and/or moaning each syllable through gritted teeth. The desperately pleading eight minutes of “Drive All Night” and the harrowing album closer “Wreck on the Highway” portend the abject darkness of things to come on 1982’s stark solo gambit Nebraska—call it Pre-Braska.

Disc 4 carries the Outtakes, including favorites like the shotgun-slamming “Roulette,” the come- hithering “Meet Me in the City,” and the ever-shifting “Little White Lies.” Disc 6 adds pro-shot visuals to 24 tracks culled from a noted legendary live performance in Tempe, Arizona on November 5, 1980. I’ve long cherished my three-disc, 35-track audio bootleg of that show, but having the full visuals and a much better mix in surround sound only adds to the visceral excitement of full-bore readings of “Out in the Street,” “Fire,” and the ever-incendiary “Detroit Medley.” This is as good as live of-era E Street gets, folks.

I’m quite enamored with what happens aurally during the closing credits—Bob Clearmountain’s 5.1 mix of “Where the Bands Are,” a studio leftover that also appears in stereo on Outtakes. Clearmountain keeps the root elements of the song—Max Weinberg’s time-keeping rim taps, Clarence Clemons’ fiery sax solo, and the lead vocals—properly front and center, delegating what Bruce refers to as “the noise” to the rear channels, the grease that captures the live essence of the band in its studio incarnation. As “Bands” careens towards conclusion, the escalating “woo-ooo”s and the final big guitar riff increase in volume and dominate the rears. Ah, if only we could someday get a full disc (or three) of vintage studio Boss in surround!

In many ways, The Ties That Bind signifies just how much The River served as Independence Day for Springsteen all down the line, opening up the portal to the long, dark highway lying in wait for the always maturing, always searching songwriter. Point blank—it’s a brilliant ride.

CD & Blu-ray
Label: Columbia
Audio Formats: 96-kHz/24-bit PCM 5.1, 96-kHz/24-bit Dolby Digital 5.1, 96-kHz/24-bit PCM Stereo (Blu-ray); 44.1-kHz/16-bit PCM Stereo (CD and download)
Number of Tracks: 91 (52 on 4 CDs, 39 on 2 Blu-rays)
Length: 2:18:55 (CDs), 3:54:57 (Blu-rays)
Producers: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, Steve Van Zandt (original album, reissue, outtakes, and live material); Barry Rebo (archival footage mixes); Thom Zimny (documentary and live mixes on Blu-ray); Bob Clearmountain (live mixes and 5.1 mixes on Blu-ray)
Engineers: Neil Dorfsman, Chuck Plotkin, Toby Scott (original album); Neil Dorfsman, Bob Clearmountain, Jeff Hendrickson, 5 others (single albums and outtakes); Bob Clearmountain (live and 5.1 mixes)