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The Boss restrains himself

IT'S a special kind of rock star who spends 20 years at the top before issuing his Greatest Hits. Say what you like about Bruce Springsteen, he does it his way.

The timing is not the only odd thing about the set (Columbia, out tomorrow). Famously prolific and generous - four-hour shows, a three- disc live album - Springsteen here confines himself to a single CD. Of the 18 songs, two are new, and two old but unreleased: a vast back catalogue has been reduced to 14 tracks. His recent work, notably "Streets of Philadelphia", is characterised by a heroic restraint. We didn't know it would extend to his marketing.

The result is a bias against the early days - nothing from the first two LPs, only one song from Darkness on the Edge of Town, only two from Springsteen's masterpiece, The River. Whereas there are four from Born in the USA, which may be a masterpiece in the eyes of the guys at Columbia.

The list of heinous omissions is longer than it need have been: no "Racing in the Street" (in fact, only one car song, which can't be right), no "Factory", no "I'm on Fire". And no "The Price You Pay". The first, perhaps the only, great rock song about responsibility, this confirmed Springsteen as the rocker who was so ordinary, he was extraordinary. Without it, the story is incomplete.

And the new songs? "Secret Garden" and "Blood Brothers" are "Philadelphia"- style brooders, and almost that good. "Murder Inc" is a formula stomp, justly left off Born in the USA. "This Hard Land" is a heartwarming reunion of the E Street Band, complete with organ, piano, sax, stadium chorus, and the Boss exhorting the boys to C'm'on. It rounds off a fine collection, which a lot of fans will feel could have been better.

Tim de Lisle