Genre: Rock, Heartland Rock
Preceded by: Born to Run (1975)
Followed by: The River (1980)
Related to: not available yet
I always had my doubts about people who cherish some kind of blind faith in an unassailable higher power. Whether it’s some teenager with a petrified glance into the deep nothing at a young Christians meeting, the stern ideologist that defends the healing power of the free market until his death, or people proudly risking their lives for the flag. Because of completely enigmatic reasons, I always suspected Springsteen fans of some mild form of this faith. However, driving a couple of miles, listening some music and having some beers always appeared to me as a more respectable way to overcome your tragic situation than killing other people.
The sixties just met their boundaries when Springsteen gets his first recording contract in 1972, signing with Columbia. The message that Messenger Bruce came to bring, is already told on his debut album (Greetings from Ashbury Park N.J. 1973): Springsteen is Jersey, and life can be tough out there. Just like its hastily released successor, it barely had any success, opposite to his numerous long live gigs throughout the region, ever injected with loads of energy. Messenger Bruce succeeds to absorb his growing amount of disciples into his story during these gatherings, but struggles in the studio due to his ambition to create the next Astral Weeks or first Desire. This is the point where he gets his first handshake from above, as he soon realizes that he just has to put that awesome live sound on a record. Thanks to an enormous production, he majestically succeeds with Born to Run (1975), but it was probably the endless tour that followed (because of a trial with manager Mike Appel, prohibiting him to record new material) that made him aware of the divine touch: such a muscled sound asks for a straight, in your face message.
It was the same exhausting tour (considering this his second handshake) that prevented him to become a victim of uninspired reproduction, withdrawing right after this trial (and the tour) to a farm in Jersey. Right there he observed the small world he grew up in, including the tough life of his parents. So, although Darkness on the Edge of Town may have a less bombastic sound than its predecessor (it’s basically all about the guitar-piano combo), it definitely wasn’t a revolutionary switch of style in Springsteen’s career. It was just the next step in the refinement of his golden touch on Born to Run: while society was creating more ‘losers’ than ‘winners’, Springsteen succeeded to appeal to both, just like religion serves to overcome your problems, as well as to legitimate your lack of problems.
Just like throughout his complete discography, he pushes his fans between despondency and hope on the album. It results in a well-balanced record, strongly tied together by the granite bookends on both sides. The strong songs in between are especially the three autobiographical ones: ‘Adam Raised a Cain’, where Springsteen addresses his father by biblical imagery (which was about all communication there was between both at that moment), ‘Factory’, his simple but impressive narrative about the worker’s life, and above all the magnificent ‘Something in the Night’. On this track, Springsteen seemed to have left behind his careless youth and has grew wiser the hard way, more specifically by his troubles in court: “You’re born with nothing, and better off that way. Soon as you’ve got something they send someone to try and take it away.”
However, the fist is really clenched on the opening and closing tracks. Springsteen summons his followers on ‘Badlands’ to stop complaining, to stop waiting, but to just make something out of it, after all, it’s no shame to be alive. Sounds simple, but a lot better when you disseminate it as if it were your own gospel: “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied till he rules everything“. The fact that escapism is a serious option in this situation, is made clear on ‘Racing in the Street’: even if you’re living a miserable life with a shitty job and a desperate relationship, there’s always a way to escape, in this case through street racing. The song in that way continues Springsteens’s ode to a man’s urge for freedom that was set in on Born to Run: “Now some guys they just give up living and start dying little by little, piece by piece. Some guys come home from work and wash up and go racing in the street”.
Side 2 starts with a boom on ‘The Promised Land’, in which problems are faced and one is ready to eliminate them for once and for all. It was probably again Springsteens’ own hopeless situation that preceded the album that served as an inspiration: not being able to record a new album and to do what he wanted to do. The album is finally closed by its title track, being the sequel to ‘Racing in the Street’. The barriers that were on the path to the ultimate destiny are still being shaken off at that point, he just cut himself loose from everything that used to stop him and is ready to go all the way now. Bring on the darkness.