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In 1995, Bruce Springsteen faced the prospect of a Greatest Hits album, and decided on quite the marketing tactic: reuniting the E Street Band to record a few new songs for the album.
We’ll talk more about that reunion when Bruce’s Greatest Hits actually rolls around. There’s a lot to talk about on that front, and trust me, that article’s going to be a big one. What we’re dealing with today is, funnily enough, similar to American Beauty – a set of leftovers from the Greatest Hits sessions, released as a companion album to the Blood Brothers documentary in the same year.
Three of the four new Greatest Hits tracks – “Blood Brothers,” “Secret Garden,” and “Murder Incorporated” are represented here in alternate or live takes, alongside a cover of Tim Scott McConnell’s “High Hopes” (which Bruce would rediscover and compile an entire album around a re-recording of in 2014, thanks to Tom Morello) and a curious track called “Without You.” Despite being built around alternate takes, Blood Brothers comes off as feeling a bit more essential than American Beauty, though this may be due to the allure of additional E Street Band content at a time when the E Street Band had been a figment of the past for seven years.
“Blood Brothers” rejects the quieter, softer Greatest Hits take for a louder, more impassioned, hard hitting rock version of the same track, which is considered by some fans to be superior as a result. “Murder Incorporated” was recorded live from Tramps, an iconic club in New York City. This recording is one of many performances of the track filmed for a music video released to promote Greatest Hits. “Secret Garden” features string overdubs not featured on the Greatest Hits version of the song, and is otherwise unchanged. The strings give the track some extra texture, which is nice, but the fiddling around at the song’s conclusion overpower Clarence Clemons’s saxophone, having the opposite effect as a result.
“High Hopes” is an interesting track, a cover of a track written in 1987 by Tim Scott McConnell. Bruce doesn’t often record covers, and the fact that this sone was one of the ones he chose to record with the temporarily-reunited E Street Band is an oddity. The song’s themes of trying to remain positive in times of trouble is reminiscent of Bruce’s own themes in his songs, which may have played into the decision to record it. For whatever reason, it did not make Greatest Hits; perhaps, being a cover, it was never intended to.
“Without You” is strange in its lack of real substance. That’s not a bad thing, but it feels out of place considering the subject matter of the rest of the tracks from the Greatest Hits sessions. Incredibly upbeat and quick, the song laments the singer’s missing partner, as he goes through his week without her. The song is a strange juxtaposition between Bruce’s 1990s, overtly positive songwriting, and the instrumentalism of the 1980s-era E Street Band (Clemons’s saxophone feels particularly strange in this situation). None of these things, however, amount to a substantial, “important” song, but it is a fun listen nevertheless.
Despite the feeling I mentioned above of this album feeling more essential than American Beauty, it could probably be perceived as actually being less essential, due to the surprising lack of original material. Only one song is exclusive to this EP; the Greatest Hits tracks are non-essential variations, and “High Hopes” is a cover that now stands vastly inferior to its 2014 counterpart. Blood Brothers‘s value, in 2014, now lies in its rarity, as it is practically impossible to get a hold of.
That’s 1990s Bruce Springsteen for you.
A note about the artist:
– Blood Brothers is the only studio release to feature an E Street Band credit on the front cover. Springsteen generally only credited his band on live albums, where they stood on more equal footing – in the studio, everything was a Springsteen creation, and as a result, the E Street Band are only credited as performers, without appearing on the cover. Interestingly, 1988’s Chimes of Freedom is an inversion of this, being a live EP with the E Street Band that is credited solely to Springsteen on the cover.