The Ties That Bind: The River Collection (Columbia)
Reviewed by Libby Webster, Fri., Dec. 18, 2015
A double album of hellos and goodbyes, 1980's The River juxtaposes cocky romance with grim meditations on death. Bruce Springsteen's fifth release proved a cardinal development in his storytelling, and The Ties That Bind: The River Collection dissects it across four CDs, a 2-DVD concert from the same year in Arizona, and an hourlong documentary on a third DVD, plus over 200 coffee-table-ready photos. The rollicking, 160-minute set from Tempe preserves the unbelievable youthfulness of the bandleader and his henchmen Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt, and the rest of the E Street Band. Unabashed boyishness, tireless fervor, and exuberance brand it the box's uncontested centerpiece. Past the double-disc LP remaster, CD three unearths the initial 10-track version of The River. Without "Point Blank," "Out in the Street," and "Wreck on the Highway," its drama quotient plummets. A collection of outtakes on a final CD adds a new blush to the sessions, however. Gritty rocker "Chain Lightning," whose opening got repurposed on Nebraska; "Stray Bullet," a piano ballad driving the characters from the title song to darker depths; and the chaotic desperation of "Roulette" flesh out The River's (im)mortal flow.