We are approaching the end of another year, and it looks like it may come and go with the only new releases being a separate DVD of The Promise documentary and a re-release of Essential. Sure, rumors of a new album “soon” appear at regular intervals, but so far nothing tangible has emerged and there may be nothing to it.
While this prolonged silence may seem unbearable, it has in fact been less than a year since the last major release (the Darkness box) and only about 2½ years since the last album of brand new material. But those numbers are only unusual in light of the last six years or so. The years that started with the release of Devils & Dust in 2005 and saw a new album every year until 2010 (with the exception of 2008, which in return was a busy touring year) were extremely productive by Bruce standards. Before 2005 a year without a new Bruce album was the rule rather than the exception.
There have been several much worse waits for Bruce fans over the years: the wait for the Born to Run album, the wait for the Darkness album, the wait for the Darkness box set, the wait for the E Street Band to be reunited. But in modern Bruce history, there has been no wait like the one that drove fans out of their minds between 1988 and 1992. The 3½ year wait that started when the last note of the last Human Rights Now! show faded away in the Buenos Aires October sky and ended with the release of Human Touch and Lucky Town in the spring of 1992, is legendary among fans.
It was a period in Bruce history when Bruce releasing a duet with Nils Lofgren was major news (“Valentine”); when fans were excited about Bruce recording a children’s song to a charity album (“Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips”); and when the main story in Backstreets Magazine would be an article about the Cadillac Ranch sculpture in Amarillo, Texas.
Sure, there were rumors the whole time that an album was imminent. Since this was before the Internet, most of the rumors were reported by the Backstreets Hotline in the US and the Badlands Hotline in the UK. I personally spent fortunes calling both of them on a weekly basis in the desperate hope that there would be just the tiniest bit of news or the unlikeliest of rumors. At one point Backstreets did report that venues for a Bruce tour had been booked, but nothing materialized.
What made the wait even worse was how it started out with the announcement that Bruce wouldn’t be needing the E Street Band. This left everything up in the air. No one knew what to expect. A clue was given during one of Bruce’s few live appearances in 1990 when he debuted several new songs at the Christic Institute benefit shows in Los Angeles, including “57 Channels” and “Real World”. Another clue was the release of “Viva Las Vegas” for a benefit album that saw Bruce work with Jeff Porcaro of Toto and other session players. But there was no telling how big of a departure the new music would be and altogether what the lack of E Street Band would mean.
Another unknown factor was Bruce’s new status as a father. When Patti Scialfa gave birth to the couple’s first child in July of 1990 few fans knew just how deeply that would affect Bruce’s life, character and music. Again, the Christic shows offered a glimpse of a strangely insecure and vulnerable Bruce, but surely, it was just a matter of a few more months before the good, old, larger-than-life superstar would be back to reclaim his rock ‘n’ roll throne. After all, it had already been two years with no news.
The months, however, grew to yet another full year of... nothing. His public appearances in 1991 could be counted on one hand, and frustration among fans was on the verge of turning to apathy when finally.... FINALLY... the announcement came. A new single, two albums, a tour, new band, full-scale marketing attack. Bruce was back!
As we all know now, Bruce was indeed back with Human Touch and Lucky Town, but the 3½ year hiatus came with a price. Things were different. Not just because of the new faces on the stage behind Bruce. Bruce himself was different. His untamable power and take-no-prisoners approach had been replaced by a new sensitivity and - dare I say it - contentment. Also, and more importantly, the times had a-changed. Bruce was no longer number one on the charts for months at a time. He was absent from most readers’ polls. The young generations had found new spokesmen in Nirvana and R.E.M. Even among the converted, critical voices were becoming more and more dominant.
It took most of the Nineties for Bruce to find a new role and purpose for himself. How much of a factor his 3½ year hiatus played in the new direction his career took, for better or worse, no one knows. And only time will tell if the wait we are currently going through will result in a similar upheaval. In the 1990’s it was the birth of his children, his sacking of the E Street Band, and a changed world that shaped his music. In this new decade it’s the loss of Danny and Clarence, his own aging, and the rapidly changing music business that can present both serious obstacles and interesting opportunities for him. No doubt all of this is on his and Jon Landau’s minds in deciding what the next step should be.
Meanwhile, all we, the fans, can do is count the days, months and years between albums and hope that, after all, this wait won’t rival that legendary one of 1989-1992.