Bruce Springsteen’s Brilliant Remasters

by Steve Spohn
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BruceAsburyPark SongMango.comAfter years of clamoring and cajoling from fans around the world, Bruce Springsteen has finally remastered his first seven albums in a box set branded with the rather uninspired title, Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Vol. 1 1973-1984. Though the name is a little flat, the remastering of Bruce’s beloved early work is nothing short of astounding.

In a lot of ways, it’s like hearing the classics you grew up with – such as “Spirit In The Night,” “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and “Promised Land” – for the very first time. If you’re a big Bruce fan, like myself, listening to this remastered material is about as close as it gets to a religious experience (at least for me) – as if Bruce’s mastering engineer, Bob Ludwig, has pulled a string of fluffy cotton balls from our ears and pumped up the sound with enough growth hormone to blow down the walls of Jericho.

BruceNewBoxSet SongMango.comLudwig – whose resumé includes Hendrix, Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Nirvana –uses new remaster technology called the Plangent Process, a transfer technique from the original studio analog tapes. Ludwig explains the process in a Backstreets.com interview:

The process allows the tape playback to sound closer to the output of the mixing console than ever before. It yields better separation, less distortion and a solidity to the sound that can be really remarkable. …a sonic depth and clarity not heard since the original mix-down session.

Plangent Processes, the firm behind the new remastering technique, took on the job of transferring and repairing the mountain of original tapes for The Grateful Dead’s box set, Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings. Even Neil Young, the audiophile artist that came up with super high-res PonoMusic, uses Plangent for his reissues.

These are the first seven Bruce LPs included in the Plangent remastered box set:

Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. (1973)
The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)
Born to Run (1975)
Darkness On The Edge Of Town (1978)
The River (1980)
Nebraska (1982)
Born In The U.S.A. (1984)

BobLudwigBruceRemaster SongMango.com

Sound engineer extraordinaire Bob Ludwig

The set is available in both CD and vinyl formats. All seven of the LPs are freshly remastered – five of them for the first time ever – and, according to Backstreets.com, “all are making their remastered debuts on vinyl.”

Only Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town have been previously remastered, but without the benefit of the new, higher-end Plangent Process.

I rarely listen to Bruce’s studio albums anymore – always preferring live performances – but now there is serious competition with these remastered versions.

I started the party with Greetings From Asbury Park and listened to the set in chronological order. It was an amazing musical experience. A song like “The Angel,” which was always a snoozer song for me, sprung to life – making it a beautiful ballad that I had never truly appreciated before. “Spirit In The Night” lost all the murky, muddy mix it once had, and suddenly you’re standing right next to Greasy Lake with Wild Billy and Crazy Janey, handclaps and all.

The spirits will shoot through you

BruceTheWildCover SongMango.comThe acoustic guitars throughout the Greetings remaster sparkle. All the dullness is completely gone. Metaphors abound to try to convey the improvements. One that I think works particularly well is a dirty, dingy window that has been wiped clean. The view is magnificent.

Greetings, and Bruce’s second album, The Wild, The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle, were the works that needed remastering the most – and neither disappoints. Hearing “Incident On 57th Street” feels like Bruce is whispering right in your ear about Romeo and Juliet. The sound has an intimacy and a layered complexity that was never there before.

The remastered “Incident On 57th Street”

Darkness On The Edge Of Town was always hampered by dull (even muffled) drum production and jumbled compression of the guitars. Now they are brightened up to a healthy glow, and separated so each can breathe with their own detail and crispness.

The remastered “Badlands” hammers into the speakers like never before. Bruce’s harmonica in “The Promised Land” is more powerful and vibrant than we’ve ever heard it. And his vocals are much cleaner and more pronounced, rather than the slightly garbled sound on the original recording.

“Badlands” never sounded so damn good

Hear the full promise of “The Promised Land”

TheRiverRemastered SongMango.comNext, I plugged into The River and floated downstreamI listened as I drove from Princeton, NJ (my hometown), to Long Beach Island, NJ, via the Pine Barrens. It was, as I mentioned before, very close to a religious experience for me.

From the jingle-jangle opening of “The Ties That Bind,” the guitar pops and Bruce’s vocals are strong and packed with emotion. Clarence’s sax solo seethes with more glory than the original (which is definitely saying something). The clarity and precision of the song shine through like the sunrise after a long dark storm.

“Ramrod” rocks like Bruce’s life depends on it, and “Point Blank” is as simmering and smokey as the best film noir you’ll ever see. “Out In The Street” transports you straight down to the dock on a Friday, and the acoustic guitars on “Independence Day” are simply spine tingling. The bass throughout the album is clear and strong, especially on ballads like “Drive All Night.”

“The Ties That Bind” – brilliantly remastered

“Independence Day” shimmers with new freedom

I’ll stop there, with the intent of not spoiling every one of the surprises on this remastered collection. Do yourself a favor and listen to it front to back, including Nebraska and Born In The U.S.A. You’ll definitely be glad you did. My hat is off to Bruce and remaster wizard Bob Ludwig. They hit it way out of the park with this collection.

It’s difficult to believe that after listening to Bruce’s early work thousands of times over that I could possibly squeeze more pleasure out of these seven LPs some two decades later. But I have, and will continue to do so.

Be sure to check out our huge selection of Bruce merch, including his brilliantly remastered box set.

Steve Spohn is a former Saturday Night Live and Nickelodeon Television executive. Growing up near Princeton, NJ, led to a musical addiction, with WMMR in Philly and WNEW in NYC providing the daily dose. When not attending or planning to attend Bruce Springsteen concerts, he's plugging away as a screenwriter in Beverly Hills. Reach Steve at SSpohn@SongMango.com.

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