Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records, 1978

http://www.brucespringsteen.net

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/19/1997

One of the most difficult things about this job is having to say unpopular things about popular artists and albums that have become legendary. I found out the hard way when I dared to describe a Mariah Carey album as mediocre - hoo, boy, my parentage was never called into question that badly.

So when a reader (sorry, I don't have your name in front of me - this happens when you have mail on three different computers - but I'm sure you know who you are) wrote to me about two weeks ago asking me to review Bruce Springsteen's Darkness On The Edge Of Town, I can't say I was overly enthusiastic. Springsteen is an artist who enjoys almost godlike adoration from fans and seething hatred from the critics; there is no middle ground, and anyone who tries to claim some is damned by both sides.

Well, warm up your flame mail, 'cause I'm a-headin' for that middle ground, with a slight lean towards the fanatics.

Following the success of his third album, 1975's Born To Run, Springsteen found himself in the middle of a nasty legal situation. Springsteen sued his manager, Mike Appel, after he was denied permission to let Jon Landau produce the follow-up album, and rejected the producer Appel picked. As a result, Springsteen found himself unable to record until an out-of-court settlement favoring Appel was reached. Springsteen may have won the freedom he was looking for, but at a cost. His music, up till then not really socially conscious, became an homage to the common man.

You can hear the anger in many of the cuts on Darkness On The Edge Of Town; Springsteen was pissed, and he very weakly tried to disguise it. One line from "Something In The Night" shows the angry young songwriter: "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." Another song doesn't directly address his anger, but "Adam Raised A Cain" seems to have some subtle references toward Appel.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of the songs on this one, the leadoff track "Badlands" stands out in my mind as being superior. Springsteen's bands have never really had a lead-guitar front; it's always been more of a piano-cum-rhythm section lead.... not that there's anything wrong with that. However, on "Badlands" the guitar work is a little more in your face, something I wish he had done more often in his career. A similar effort, "Prove It All Night," doesn't seem to have the same gusto, and disappoints.

While Springsteen had always shown a touch of the storyteller in his music, it really comes into its own on Darkness On The Edge Of Town. "Racing In The Street" seems to tell of wasted youth and the dreams that died as it passed by, as well as an attempt to regain some of the lost time in one's life. Frankly, it is not a song I want to listen to when I'm feeling depressed, but paints a very clear picture that serves as a moral (warning?) to the listener. A shorter, but far more poignant, example is on "Factory," a song which almost every working stiff (myself included) can relate to. However, other story songs like "Candy's Room" do not have the same effect, and the story seems to be out of touch with the rest of the album. Never mind the fact that Springsteen would do several more songs in this vein throughout his career - check out the title track to The River for a better example.

What surprises me about this album is that for all the trouble Springsteen had to go through to get this album made the way he wanted it, I would have expected it to be a little more electric - that is, more songs like "Badlands" and "Adam Raised A Cain." Instead, Springsteen often goes for the softer vein that he has never strayed far from throughout his career. And this is where I thought the messages he was trying to convey could have often been improved on.

Truth be told, I would not consider this album to be Springsteen's best, though I would not call it a failure by any means. It's just that when Springsteen gets into a solid groove with the E Street Band backing him note for note, the adrenalin level rises for both the listener and musician. There are times that a quiet song fits the album perfectly; I'd say close to half the album being on the quiet side is pushing it.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town could be seen as a transition album. Born To Run was the surprising breakthrough, and had Springsteen not gotten caught up in all the legal yada-yada-yada, this most likely would have been similar to Born To Run. Instead, after a three-year "vacation," Springsteen retured to the studio a changed man. He would perfect this newer style on his follow-up album, The River. Consider this one a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

Diehard Springsteen fans will surely find no fault with this one, and even marginal Springsteen fans like myself will find portions of the album enjoyable. It may not be Springsteen's best, but it's a good start.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B+


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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia Records, and is used for informational purposes only.