Bruce Springsteen has been on a creative tear for the last decade, releasing four new albums of original material -- and, with 2006's 'We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,' one marvelously loose collection of American folk standards. And he isn't finished: as he told us in November, the Boss has a tour and a new album with the E Street Band planned for 2012. So what can we expect to hear, and when can we expect to hear it?

The short answer, of course, is that we don't know. But given that this is one of the most hotly-anticipated rock releases of the year, a few details have leaked out, and here's a rundown of what we've heard so far.

Springsteen's November announcement about the new album and tour came after weeks of intense speculation (including one hoax story that claimed to know the title and track listing), so drawing the line between rumor and reality can be difficult. We do know that earlier in the year, producer Ron Aniello -- who helmed the 2007 solo album by Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa -- announced he'd been working with Bruce, but Aniello's varied resume makes it hard to guess what that might mean for the sound of the record.

"We want you to know that the music is almost done (but still untitled), we have almost settled on the release date (but not quite yet), and that we are all incredibly excited about everything that we're planning for 2012," wrote Bruce on his website, and those sentiments were echoed during a recent interview with Bob Seger, who said the new material was being mastered and that Springsteen told him "it's really unusual and that it's the best thing that he's done in years."

One of the new album's unusual aspects will also be its most tragic: the absence of founding E Street Band members Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons. Federici passed away in 2008, but was still featured on 2009's 'Working on a Dream,' while Clemons died in June.

All that loss is bound to have a profound emotional effect on the music, but few artists are better than Springsteen when it comes to communicating rock's redemptive power of triumph over tragedy, and if he's excited about the new record, all of us should be. With a run of U.S. shows reportedly on the horizon for spring -- and a healthy slate of European dates already lined up for the summer -- we should all be able to hear for ourselves soon.

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