Providing highlights from Springsteen’s boxset of outtakes from the same year, 18 Tracks provoked the wrath of fans by including three coveted songs not included of the full version, forcing completists to buy both. Despite this lack of consideration for his followers, 18 Tracks is an entertaining collection; as Springsteen explains in the liner notes, many of these songs were omitted because they didn’t fit into the particular project he was working on, rather than because of any perceived lack of quality. As a chronologically arranged collection it shows Springsteen’s career path from earnest singer-songwriter of the ‘Growin’ Up’ demo to the corporate rock of ‘Trouble River’, and it’s a testament to his writing that he can neglect songs as catchy as ‘Pink Cadillac’ and ‘I Wanna Be With You’.
It’s an interesting exercise to try and perfect his studio albums; for instance ‘Wild Billy’s Circus Story’ is the weak link on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, and ‘The Fever’ from this collection would have been a much stronger substitute. There’s also a large residue of leftovers from the Born In The U.S.A. sessions; they’re mostly excellent, with ‘My Love Will Not Let You Down’ and ‘Pink Cadillac’ as well as a solo version of the title track, the date of which indicates that it was originally intended for Nebraska. It’s baffling that Springsteen was able to omit something as memorable as ‘Sad Eyes’, later a hit for Enrique Iglesias, from his 1992 albums, although his other contributions from this era are the weakest on this set. The compilation ends with its most profound moments; the Vietnam veteran of ‘Brothers Under The Bridge’, the possessed lover of ‘The Fever’, and the Springsteen archetype of ‘The Promise’, a sequel to ‘Thunder Road’ from Born To Run.
I’d take this collection of often excellent odds and sods over most of Springsteen’s post Tunnel Of Love work.