Yes, we all loved “Letter to You,” but what’s next for Bruce Springsteen? You probably heard that last week he promised E Street Radio’s Jim Rotolo -- easily the best (and nicest) host on that estimable station, BTW -- that there were surprises in store for 2021:
“I have some projects coming up this year that I won’t tell because it’s going to be a secret, then a big surprise,” Springsteen said (emphasis his), “but I do have things to keep me busy this year that will give the fans something to bide their time with.”
I have a feeling that Bruce was being a little cheeky there, since he knows that keeping a secret in the digital age is a fairly tall order, and true surprises are awfully hard to come by these days. But he’s bound to have some tricks up his sleeve, and surprise or not, any of these possibilities would be more than welcome:
1) "Tracks 2"
This would come as a surprise to pretty much no one, since Bruce talked openly about it in Brian Hiatt’s epic 2020 Rolling Stone interview with him, and Hiatt even says pretty definitively of Springsteen’s vast collection of outtakes, “Some of these songs will appear on a second volume of Tracks.” If Springsteen and Sony are looking for something heavy to get under people’s Christmas trees next year, this would be the most likely candidate.
2) The unreleased gospel album
This is another “lost” Springsteen project that’s been bandied about for a decade or more, and there’s always the chance he’ll give it the “Western Stars” treatment and finally put the finishing touches on it. I wouldn’t expect the kind of religious warbling you heard on Elvis’s “His Hand In Mine,” though -- the “Wrecking Ball” tracks “Shackled & Drawn” and “Rocky Ground” are rumored to have come from these sessions, so sounds like the songs have some bite to them.
3) BITUSA (and “Nebraska”?) boxed set
Widely (and wrongly) assumed to have been on the docket for its 35th anniversary in 2019, there’s certainly enough material to revisit the productive sessions that resulted in Springsteen’s best-selling album -- particularly if you throw “Nebraska” into the mix. Anyone expecting the legendary “electric ‘Nebraska’ sessions” to be included will probably have to keep waiting, though -- I get the sense that Bruce and Jon Landau just don’t like them. (Personal wish: Bruce and the band should record studio versions of the live arrangements for the “Nebraska” songs that they’ve perfected in concert over the years. I’d buy that for a dollar.)
4) Another live boxed set (or two?)
Eagle-eyed fans of Springsteen’s live archive releases on nugs.net noticed that the eight-show, 24-CD boxed set of 1978 radio broadcasts, announced in December for release this February, was labeled “Volume I” -- which would seem to indicate a Volume II would at some point be in the offing. (Or at least a Volume 3, if you’re the Traveling Wilburys.) It would be hard to imagine another set drawn from the 1978 tour, given that Volume I exhausts the radio broadcasts and, as legendary as that tour was, how much 1978 do we need? (Particularly on CD, a format tripping over itself to follow the 8-track tape into obscurity.) But there are some broadcasts from other eras that could make the cut as a sort of career-spanning radio retrospective -- personal fave, the underrated June 5, 1992 U.S. "dress rehearsal" radio broadcast with the “other band,” the only show where Bruce is known to have name-checked “Weird Al” Yankovic -- not to mention other massive tours that could support the boxed-set treatment.
5) A Christmas, duets, or Royal Philharmonic Orchestra album -- or all three!
Yes, I’ve gotten into the realm of pure speculation here, but Bruce did say there were “surprises” in store -- and all of these would qualify. Maybe not the Christmas album so much -- Bruce did tell Jimmy Fallon last month that pulling together tracks from the Asbury Park holiday shows for an official release is something he’s toyed with over the years. But a duets album would be quite unexpected from the notoriously gimmick-averse Springsteen, even if it’s something aging artists seem required to do by law. (Sting has one coming out in March, natch.)
And a collab with the Royal Philharmonic -- where the group’s orchestrations are grafted onto pre-existing tracks, whether anybody wants them there or not -- would be a true shocker, given that those usually happen when the artist is already deceased and can no longer put up a fight. We can only hope that Bruce has a clause against that in his Sony contract.
Regardless, kept from touring, it’s a safe bet Bruce won’t be sitting on his laurels in 2021. Surprise or not, we’ll take what he has to offer until concert tickets are back on the table.
What did we forget, or what would you like to see Bruce release this year? (A covers album? A new children's book? A collection of haikus?) Let us know in the comments.