Music Features

Used Adventures In Hi-Fi #4

Bruce Springsteen: Darkness On The Edge Of Town (Loughton, Cancer Research UK, £1)

For almost a decade between 1975 and 1984, Bruce Springsteen released an unbroken string of albums that were bona fide, inarguably stone cold classics. At first glance a Marmite sort of act - you either love the Boss or you hate him - there's little denying that Springsteen has a way with an anthemic rock'n'roll tune and it's these records (Born To Run, Darkness..., The River, Nebraska and Born In The USA) that cement his reputation as such. In actual fact, they're all quite different from one another (Nebraska's hushed and acoustic, Born In The USA brash and synth-led) but the pick of the crop, for me, is Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

On this album, released in 1978, Springsteen is moving away from the girls'n'cars of Thunder Road and Born To Run, and onto more cerebral topics: original sin, the life of the downtrodden, and Springsteen's greatest theme, of one day rising above what life has dealt you. The aspirational rust belt worker of Night makes a return on Factory, but this time, he's the Boss' daddy rising at the whistle and trudging to work and back in the rain. As so often, the protagonists of these intensely narrative songs are disillusioned youth, striving for better but limited in expectations, capability, and the weight of the system. There's a sense of romance imparted into what are essentially depressing songs about life: dustbowl America never sounded so vital.

Of course, the cars and girls are still there, but they're darker. Instead of the bombastic road trips of Thunder Road we have the snail-paced wistfulness of Racing In The Street, where what could have been a huge, jazzed up affair is stripped down completely. Instead of Wendy strapping her arms across your engine, Candy is welcoming paying men into her room, eyeing the pictures of her heroes on the wall.

Musically it's more sophisticated as well: joyous and exciting though the whole of Born To Run is, Darkness... takes the E Street Band to a different level. Adam Raised A Cain is a particularly good example - you could well imagine the Bad Seeds wrangling through the tremolo-picked guitar lines or the piano-led groove. Springsteen runs the emotional gamut on what is reckoned to be one of his most autobiographical songs, the relentlessly scalding lyrics accompanied by a suitable minimalistic ensemble. Take Candy's Room as well - the drums wouldn't seem out of place on a Bloc Party song, and there's another searing guitar solo. That's not to mention the eponymous closing track, a ragged, growling rampage through a Stax soul template.

This is the point where Springsteen is at his most important and most vital. The lean, hungry look of the album cover could be Robert De Niro staring out from the floral-wallpapered room, a signifier of the low-rent, low-pretension art that the Boss was producing. Springsteen could have walked straight off the Pennsylvania set of The Deer Hunter, straight from his day at the steel works, and it's this sort of image that sears into the mind of Joe American. Later on would come the epic double The River; the heartwrenching acoustic narratives of Nebraska and the world-conquering overload of Born In The USA, but it's Darkness on the edge of town that seems to best encapsulate Springsteen: as the working man's champion, a songwriter par excellence, an exciting, bold singer and musician, and for those ten years, the brightest star on the American block.