Released in 1978, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is the record that Bruce Springsteen released after the great success of Born To Run and the following tour. However, even though Bruce continued to write songs in an astonishing number, the new record was only released after three long years. The late publication of Darkness On The Edge Of Town was not linked to artistic choices, as it had been for Born To Run, but to managerial and legal reasons. The success of the 1975 album brought out the economic imbalance of the contract that Springsteen had signed years earlier with manager Mike Appel. Paradoxically Bruce, despite his success and notoriety, found himself with empty pockets and, even more seriously, without control over his artistic production. The clash with Mike Appel was also worsened by the increasing influence that the new manager Jon Landau began to have on Springsteen‘s work.
DARK CLOUDS RISING
The clash with Mike Appel, who also landed in a courthouse for a long and intricate lawsuit, helped to throw Springsteen into turmoil and to condition his own lyrics. The songs Bruce wrote during that time largely had a darker view of life and world. But it was not only this that motivated the decisive thematic shift from Born To Run to Darkness On The Edge Of Town. Springsteen was then entering his thirties and began reading novels and short stories and watching movies. Authors such as John Steinbeck and Flannery O’Connor on the one hand and a series of neo-realist films on the other had revealed to him an American society that was far from thriving and full of opportunities. If the American dream already seemed runaway to him on Born To Run, while writing the songs for the 1978 album he interpreted it as an outright lie.
With Darkness On The Edge Of Town Springsteen realized that life is not just the musical dream, a car, a girl, a company of friends and the desire to escape to the sun, sung in Born To Run. The coveted victory in Thunder Road, leaving a town full of losers, is for many people a pure mirage. There are people who remain trapped in their own weaknesses and adversities (like the kids lost in Something In The Night, those who die little by little in Racing In The Street or fight in agony in Streets Of Fire). But even people who work hard for their future have to deal with a society that tries to put them in a corner (as happens to the tenacious protagonist of The Promised Land). Here are the dark clouds approaching and the darkness that envelops the outskirts of the town. Here are the streets and the cars burning down.
THE RELATIONSHIP WITH OLD DOUG
Even Springsteen‘s horizon, despite his artistic increasing success, seemed to take on shades of gray. In addition to the legal events there was also the family situation to ensnare his spirit. Two songs on the album refer to Bruce‘s relationship with his father Douglas. Adam Raised A Cain brings into focus the difficult relationship with old Doug. A relationship from which he could not and did not even want to escape, but which made its full effect felt just as Bruce was definitively making his life choice. The love/hate relationship towards his father generated an inner laceration in Springsteen. He saw him ill and understood that the hard work in the factory (Factory is the other “fatherly-inspired” song) only aggravated his situation. Bruce revealed on the one hand the need to disengage from that love in chains and on the other hand the deep bond that united him with his old man (in Factory the boy is moved when he sees his old man cross the factory gates in the morning and come out physically and mentally destroyed in the evening).
THE “SYMMETRICAL” ALBUM
The ten songs that make up Darkness On The Edge Of Town, especially if ordered in two fives as in the two sides of the classic vinyl LP, make up a perfect “symmetrical” album. In fact, the song order is arranged according to a precise logic of meanings. Badlands pairs with The Promised Land: they both see the protagonists fight in adversity and find the resistance to react and believe in a chance of redemption. Adam Raised A Cain and Factory share the same underlying theme: the relationship with the father figure. Something In The Night and Streets Of Fire are both about those who fail, those who are defeated. Candy’s Room and Prove It All Night seek the desire to live in the power of love, even amidst difficulties. Finally Racing In The Street and the title track are about men, both car racers, who have to face themselves and their mistakes and pay the heavy cost.
BETWEEN ACID ROCK AND TIMELESS MELODIES
While Born To Run is a purely rock album, Darkness On The Edge OF Town finds, alongside rough rock songs, also more acoustic sounds and more melancholic melodies. Badlands, Candy’s Room, Prove It All Night, Adam Raised A Cain and Streets Of Fire embrace the most visceral rock (the last two with a bloody and rough sound), supported by the finally consolidated guitar tandem Springsteen/Van Zandt. The other five songs see the melody as the protagonist and bring Roy Bittan‘s piano and Danny Federici‘s organ back to the fore within the E Street Band. Since the days of Thunder Road, the harmonica also returns in The Promised Land. Badlands reveals, in its themes and musical arrangements, the trait d’union between two albums as different as Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town. In it we find, despite the crossfires that try to block the protagonist, the love, the hope and the faith to get out of it, leaving those cursed lands. And in the same song the Springsteen/Clemons duo returns together in a double solo which is among the highest moments, even on a symbolic level, of an entire career.
The time between the launches of Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town has not passed in vain. That was in fact a period of greatest Springsteen‘s creativity, who is said to have written over one hundred songs. This huge artistic heritage has been largely preserved. In fact, in addition to the songs of the album, dozens of other songs were then released. Some were included in the following album The River; some others are in the Tracks collection (1998); others again were put in the Essential album; others, at last, are in the celebratory box set The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (2010).
Next Review: Badlands – 22 january 2024