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If Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation then by comparison, Bruce Springsteen is the voice of the street. The workingman’s messiah, the blue-collar soldiers who looked for leadership. His masterpiece Born To Run had catapulted him into the public eye, with its ‘Spectoresque’ wall-of-sound, and the lyrics from the soul of the young chasing the American Dream only to realise that it is just a dream, the reality being something a lot more severe.
Springsteens follow-up to Born to Run, released almost three-years later due to record company legalities, was the echo of the working class in every syllable. Darkness On The Edge Of Town was Springsteen reaching maturity and the realisation of life, not just his own but those forgotten in society, all this reflected within the ten tracks on this record. The cover itself showing a relatable figure, a man looking like he has nothing but the clothes he stands up in, but then again Springsteen always performed like he had nothing to lose.
The New Jersey born son of a bus driver was defiant in his honesty, here if never anywhere else. Later albums such as Born In The U.S.A would tackle the plight of the Vietnam War traumatised casualties, the young men coming home from a war only to wonder what happened to the country they were fighting for. Indeed, this undercurrent runs through Darkness On The Edge Of Town as if a static buzz behind the music.
You can feel the wet tarmac of the street in Springsteen’s voice, harvesting the anger and hopelessness in mid-seventies America. This is sometimes believed to be his greatest achievement, everything pales in comparison. The maturity of his songwriting and the mature, honest emotion in his words was the work no politician in late America could achieve at the time, a voice which was relatable to the people.
The effort put into the album by both Springsteen and the E Street Band was staggering, some seventy-tracks were written for the album, fifty-two of those recorded in some part, and then only ten used on the album itself. One of the most famous throwaways was the song Because The Night, recorded by Patti Smith, although she did alter some lyrics. For Smith it became a massive hit nonetheless, as it stands as one of the best examples of the Punk and Rock community collision.
The song cycle on this album is similar to Born To Run where the two sides of the album start off pumping and as each side comes to a close the album slows down to a reflective mood. This is where the similarity ends, the album was recorded mostly live, unlike the post-production overdubbing of instruments creating the sonic sound on Born To Run. The album opens with “Badlands”, the cry of a man looking for something better in life, some hope to cling to in the decaying city air. As the realisation sets in that if he does find it, he still might not be content.
The following “Adam Raised A Cain” is a solid rock song with complicated lyrics about the tribulations of family relationships. This track is Springsteen and the E Street at their most raw, intense, and power driven state. A stand out from the melodic album that was shaping up but in no way takes from it. On “Candys Room” the Boss sings about the love for a girl who wants out of the misery, the depressive state she’s in. The only way will be with someone, a person she doesn’t love, a man with money even though the narrator loves her he has nothing to offer her;
“Strangers from city call my baby’s number and they bring her toys,
When I come knocking, she smiles pretty, she knows I wanna be Candy’s boy.”
The celebration of freedom is in full swing on the track “Racing In The Street”, a nostalgic song in the vain of “Thunder Road”. It exists in reality at Fire Road located outside his home base of Asbury Park, New Jersey. A metaphor for escape and leaving behind the anxieties of the world from behind a steering wheel, reminiscent of the Beach Boys early hits in the sixties. No doubt highly influential on the songwriting process. The ballad of the working man “Factory” is the life you take unselfishly to provide for your family, sung as an act of love.
On this album Springsteen nods to his influences on “The Promised Land”. A homage to both Chuck Berry and Woody Guthrie, at the same time, a pride-in-your-community song, the importance of your roots similar to “Streets Of Fire”. Within the first single release “Prove It All Night”, the only straightforward man loves a woman track. A theme of romantic notions captured in a song of hope. The closer and title track “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” is the affirmation of the album before it, all the songs lead to this track, the hopelessness is captured with emotional prowess. The darkness of the mind is mirrored in the rundown outskirts of town, life is never perfect, and there is so much heartache sometimes involved the acceptance of this is hard to swallow;
“Some folks are born into a good life,
Other folks get it anyway, anyhow.
I lost my money and I lost my wife,
Them things don’t seem to matter much to me now.”
Darkness On The Edge Of Town remains Bruce Springsteen’s time capsule moment, the definition of his emotionally inspired work. At times, not fully translatable in his work, but on this album he executed his inner feelings with grace in a stark reality.