Born To Run made Bruce Springsteen a star, yet nearly three years would pass before his next release, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
It is interesting to reflect upon the scope of Springsteen's back catalogue, noting the variations in his musical vision as well as how he maintained his artistic integrity and expanded his commercial appeal. His early releases ranged from the sweeping storytelling and improvisations of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle to the energetic and epic grandeur of Born To Run to the darker lyrics and textures of his fourth album, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
For this work, Springsteen now turned his attention to the underbelly of ordinary life, in part evoking how the passage of time is less romantic than realistic and, though it's a fate often resisted, it's something one ultimately must face. Musically and lyrically, he exhibited sophistication and an increasing ability to convey his songs in mature and moving ways. In a genuine sense, this is Springsteen emerging from adolescence into adulthood.
The sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town produced a plethora of songs that Springsteen didn't release at the time, some of which were covered by other artists and, perhaps ironically, garnered more Top 40 success than the singles to come from his own album. Tracks such as “This Little Girl” by Gary U.S. Bonds, “Rendezvous” by The Greg Kihn Band and “Fire” by the Pointer Sisters served Springsteen well, though, as their eminence increased his popularity and esteem as a songwriter.
“Something In The Night” features a beautiful and sensitive piano on this narrative of chasing elusive dreams. “Racing In The Street” portrays a refusal to grow up and the loss of relationships. “Streets Of Fire” is an exhausted lament.
The song that most resonated with me at the time of this album's 1978 release was “Factory.” I spent a summer working in a toy factory in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, making plastic pumpkins for Halloween and, by the end of the first week, I hated having to get up in the morning. Many people, including myself at this time, perceived Springsteen as writing about defeat, giving up, and the dreariness of everyday life.
The only songs that are even remotely hopeful here are “The Promised Land” — in which there are hints of faith despite the realities of life — and the title song, which at least suggests that one can go down fighting.
Despite the sobering lyrical content, Darkness On The Edge Of Town is pure, energetic rock ‘n’ roll and one of the best works that Springsteen would create. A masterpiece of music resonating with brilliant textures and poetry, it makes for a powerful and emotional rendering of a road less traveled.