Sound: On his 1978 album "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" Bruce goes all pessimistic on our a-ses. As you may know, there was an unusually long 3-year gap between "Born To Run" and this album; this was due to a legal battle with his manager at the time, Mike Appel. Tired from the legal issues as well as newfound pressure and changed attitude towards him following the success of "Born To Run", Bruce chose to focus on the darker sides of America, essentially describing the opposite options for the people described in "Born To Run"; on that album love conquers and the people suppressed by society, the economy or their parents generation manage to escape. "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" describes people losing the fight.
Moving on to actually describing the album, one of the main changes in the sound com-pared to his other records is that you actually get to hear a lot of guitar - even guitar solos, which are featured on SEVEN of the songs here (?!?!). Normally, Bruce likes to hide his guitar pretty deep down the mix or play something simple on an acoustic ("Nebraska" for example) but here he picks up the electric guitar and plays the most emotionally devastat-ing solos of his career. Bruce may not have the greatest technique in the world, but this is more than compensated by the intensity and also creativity in his solos, many of which are actually quite memorable even after you've turned of your CD player.
Another fantastic change in sound is that you almost always can hear at least one instru-ment playing something distinct and a lot of times catchy. On "Born To Run" many of the songs instrumentation turned into a big blur with only Bruce's voice and Clemons' sax popping out. A powerful blur on a lot of occasions, but never the less a blur. This album gains a lot of force by having something you can remember in the songs other than the vocal melody and maybe sax solo. // 9
Lyrics: Oh, the lyrics. Those lyrics. In this reviewers very, very humble opinion the best Bruce ever produced (maybe on some occasions rivaled by "The Rising" but the themes on that record are quite different; an older Bruce definitely). The themes of this record are quite uniform (of course with some minor changes in perspective and situation) - insecurity and fear of all the things around that try to bring down. But are they handled with fantastic lyrical skill? You bet they are!
The reason for my opinion is (of course?) what Bruce's main intention always was - reso-nance. Most of the songs here describe feelings, emotions or attituted that I myself can very much relate to. In the song "Something In The Night" Bruce describes the protagonist riding in his car at night, feeling useless and unable to handle the pressure of just being a person. The thing bothering the protagonist? Something in the night. That is, in my opinion, a perfect description of the emotions you sometimes can get not really knowing where they come from - but something in the night it is indeed.
Another major achievement for Bruce with these lyrics are that he manages to make his lyrics ambiguous. A very good example is the song "The Promised Land". On the surface it may look like a person struggling to break free, but ultimately believing in The Promised Land; you know, salvation. But what with lines like: "Blow away the dreams that tear you apart/ Blow away the dreams that break your heart/ Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted". Are these dreams the dream of the Promised Land? If they are, it certainly creates a certain ambivalence towards believing in it.
What has really happened to Bruce's lyrics is that they have become more realistic; this album has Bruce embracing the hard and bad sides of life as well as being a little optimis-tic on some of the tracks (not too much though). Considering that this is the young roman-tic Bruce Springsteen that wrote "Born To Run" (The song and the album) it is pretty incred-ible that I count zero songs on the album being fully optimistic.
As for Bruce's other main attraction (his voice); well, that's probably the best he ever got. He has finally fully developed his screaming howl (or howling scream?) that is his trade-mark, and he uses it to the best effect possibly, filling all of the songs with intensity and emotion and reaching a cathartic (or near-cathartic, but they are hard to separate) effect on many of the songs. Listen to a track like "Adam Raised a Cain"; the imagery is biblical and it could have been unbelievably pretentious, but Bruce twists the classic story into resembling the story of him and his father, making it very Real (capital letter needed) and he delivers with the most furious, passionate SCREAM ever heard on a record of his. It is rarely that an artist opens up that much (Bruce often preferred to tell about his problems through stories of normal people) but here is really nothing to hide that this is Bruce the person, not the Artist, suffering. And it's really moving. // 10
Overall Impression: Since this review is already a million pages I might just as well describe all of the songs:
01. "Badlands": The most optimistic song on the album. Lyrically about fighting against a hostile world and on this song he seems to believe a little in winning. Musically it contains a good guitar solo and a very nice double-tracked vocal in the chorus, that makes it much more powerful than if it had just been one Bruce singing. Makes it hard to do live though. Not that he doesn't try.
02. "Adam Raised a Cain": As I said before, the most bitter and simply angry song on the album. Bruce's problem with his father were quite serious and this is one hell of try to fight the demons. Again, it contains fantastic solo guitar from Bruce, not that technical, but so intense and - well, rocking. In some ways as close as Bruce came to embracing the side of rock 'n roll that is anger. Just listen to him screaming out his lungs.
03. "Something In The Night": One of my lyrical favourites here, about all the fear and confu-sion you can feel for no particular reason (at least that's how I read it; chose your own, Bruce is actually open to interpretation here; I guess your view changes if you are Ameri-can yourself, which I am not). A very good intro consisting of a piano riff being repeated until it becomes almost mantra-like; then comes a drum roll and Bruce yelling something like "OOOOOH-WAAAA-WAAA-WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!?!?!". Unlimited power!
04. "Candy's Room": Probably my least favourite song of the album, but still pretty good. It is very catchy and if I'm in the right mood, the thundering drums of the "We kiss, my heart's pumpin to my brain..." part can really move me. Goes to prove how goddamn consistent this little piece of record is!
05. "Racing In The Street": The best story-telling twist of Bruce's career. He spends half the song describing the protagonist and his buddy riding round in their car they built them-selves, having a great time; but why the hell does he sound like somebody died? The an-swer comes in the last verse; his wife. If you want the rest, you can listen it, you lazy prick! Musically really sparse but amazingly effective in all its minimalist glory. Moral: Don't just drive around if you have a wife.
06. "The Promised Land": One of my favourites (well, almost all of them are my favourites, but let's call this one of my favourite favourites). Despite having a quite bombastic title the song is actually quite subdued, saving it's bombast for certain moments, making them seem even more powerful. The lyrics depicts the somewhat same situation as "Something In The Night", only this character seems even more desperate (and he has brought his harmonica).
07. "Factory": One of the "minor" tracks on the album, of course due to its short length and quite relaxed flow. Even so, it is pretty catchy and hard-hitting in its portrait of factory workers building frustration and aggression through their day of slave labor. Again inspired by Bruce's father.
08. "Streets Of Fire": This song is very much based around the contrast of the very quiet verses and suddenly WHAM! comes the chorus with Bruce once again screaming out the title. Another classy guitar solo for this one.
09. "Prove It All Night": Here we have a very, very nice little piece of music it is both the ro-mantic highlight of the album and the catchiest song as well with very well-constructed vocal melodies for both verse and chorus. Also features Bruce making it real quiet in the last verse before bringing it back again to normal loudness with the last chorus. An ancient trick, but, you know, it works. Lyrically, you could read as proving that love can save you and make it all worthwhile, but again, you can read these lyrics in different ways.
10. "Darkness On The Edge Of Town": Title track and last song of this magnum opus. Quite a responsibility for such a song. However both musically and lyrically it tries and manages to sum up the album quite well. Here Bruce gradually builds the song up from the quiet, somewhat tension-building verses, that sounds like the calm before the final storm, before releasing it fully in the last verse with another wall(and critic)-shattering vocal. Also on the story-telling side of things it seems to sum up with its tale of a guy leaving every-thing he's got because of his lust for "things that can only be find / in the darkness on the edge of town" (once again, remember that these lyrics have different mean... No, wait, shut up. I know the subject of this song thoroughly and everybody else is wrong! Wrooooong, I tell you!? #%&). In the last verse, however, the guy seems to accept his fate determined by his inability to live his life like other people; it almost seems like some sort of optimism. But, don't let it fool you, nothing is worthwhile in the darkness on the edge of town, and as you were born in Nebraska, USA, to run you must move from Asbury Park, through the tunnel of love together with the wild and the innocent playing the E Street shuffle and finally end up by the river, which you will dive into. Just remember working on your dr.. Nevermind that sh-t.
Well, to end this mighty task of a review, I will conclude that this is, and probably always will remain, my favourite Bruce Springsteen album. I like most of his other works (especially the "Rising", but that is somewhat an old man's album, whereas this is a young and angry Bruce; maybe it will change when I get older? Hah, like that is gonna happen!), but I don't think he'll ever reach these heights again. It is, in some respects, good that he never tried (and never will try, I am almost absolutely sure).
If this album was stolen I wouldn't feel sad, because I will always carry these songs in my heart (and at least three different portable devices). I may be sentimental and heartbroken, but I can still burn a CD! // 10