By Innes MacKintosh
In the midst of this year’s box-office-busting The River Tour 2016, Bruce Springsteen made the announcement that he would be releasing his memoirs in late September. Naturally, the book, Born to Run, became hotly anticipated, so it made sense that there would soon be an album on the way to capitalise on its success. Despite the predictability of this move, we have been given quite an unusual release – Chapter and Verse, a mongrel of a compilation, which features a track listing reportedly picked by The Boss himself, plus five previously unreleased cuts from the days before Springsteen had a record contract.
Much of the advertising surrounding this release made it out to be a companion of sorts to Springsteen’s memoirs, a musical representation of what could be found in Born to Run’s pages, and although it is an interesting idea, here it feels more like a marketing ploy than a meaningful addition to The Boss’ discography.
No doubt there will be many non-Springsteen fans who may pick up this album, but the main selling-point for loyal followers will be the unreleased material. These five tracks are situated at the beginning of the album in chronological order, and are a thoroughly mixed bag. The first two come from his first band and while it is amusing to hear a sixteen-year-old Bruce singing backing vocals, they are too run-of-the-mill to provide any lasting impact. Henry Boy, an acoustic number, is a nice enough tune with some interesting lyrics, but is clearly an early version of Springsteen’s rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Much better is a song from his days with Steel Mill – He’s Guilty (The Judge Song), a proto-metal jam in the style of Cream or early Led Zeppelin. While lyrically little more than a vague story about a courtroom, the music is great, and features a neat organ solo. The highlight of the rarities is The Ballad of Jesse James, a swampy blues-rock song with a catchy chorus and some brilliantly flashy guitar work, something Springsteen tends to shy away from now.
It’s easy to see the rest of Chapter and Verse as another cash-grab Springsteen compilation – most of the remaining tracks have been featured on a number of greatest hits releases and the connection to the book is not strong enough to make their inclusion here feel meaningful. However, a few insightful twists, such as the inclusion of the highly personal My Father’s House, help to fend off too much feeling of predictability. I particularly appreciate the inclusion of the audition-tape-version of Growin’ Up – it’s small touches like that which give this compilation a bit more personality.
Ultimately, Chapter and Verse is hard to pin down – not quite greatest hits, not quite rarities. While on paper it does match the narrative told in Springsteen’s memoirs, it doesn’t quite manage to shake off the feeling that it has been made primarily to cash in on them, rather than to complement them. However, the inclusion of rarities and deep cuts keeps the album fresh, and given that a compilation release was inevitable after the announcement of Springsteen’s memoirs, we could have been given a lot worse.d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’).appendChild(s);