The River, in 1980, was Springsteen’s attempt to recreate his live show – a double album on which rave-ups sat alongside introspective ballads and state-of-the-nation addresses. As with the previous album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, he recorded far too much material, and that’s the draw of this set. The River itself feels a bit unwieldy compared to the sleek single album Springsteen originally handed in to Columbia, which features here, and while less weighty – philosophically and in size – it is actually a better listen, not least because it’s not constantly dragged down by unwieldy rockers. A further disc rounds up outtakes, which makes it apparent that Springsteen could have managed several different iterations of The River, all of which would have been as good as or better than the eventual album – it’s just a shame there are only 11 previously unreleased songs across the set. Three DVDs complete the package, featuring a documentary that, truthfully, isn’t as enlightening as the one that accompanied the Darkness reissue, and the real treat: two and a half hours (not the complete set) from a November 1980 show. It’s shot much better than the gig film that accompanied the last reissue, and it captures the E Street Band at their peak: it’s so thrilling, so joyful, that I found myself unconsciously applauding between songs. Even The River’s rockers, stretched out and brought to life, transcend their recorded versions.
Michael Hann is a freelance writer, and former music editor of the Guardian