Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Albums2010 #31: Darkness On The Edge of Town
I have a mild confession to make: I never took Bruce Springsteen seriously. Maybe I was too young and too naive just to get the sheer level of musical talent and genius this man has, but I really think it has a lot to do with 'Born In The USA.' I remember my mother had the album on casette tape, far back in the mists of the distant past and all I remember thinking was how much I loathed and detested that song. It seemed to work its way into your brain like one of those weird space slugs from The Wrath of Khan. You might be fine and dandy and doing whatever Mr. Rourke tells you too, but eventually it'll eat your brain stem and you'll die.
Or something like that. Point is, I didn't get it- being a child of the 80s, I should have paid more attention, but in my defense, I grew up in Iowa- where it was John 'Cougar' Mellencamp who was the conscience of the struggling working class more than Springsteen was. 'Born To Run' woke me to the genius of Bruce and the E Street Band. 'Thunder Road' and all the rest soon followed and now I find myself listening to things like 'Rosalita' and '10th Avenue Freeze Out' and marvelling at the sheer depth, wonder and power of a man who truly earned the title of 'The Boss.'
Once again, it was Rolling Stone that turned me specifically towards 'Darkness On The Edge of Town' and I figured if they hadn't been wrong about 'Exile On Main Street' I should probably check this album out. A quick purchase with the iTunes gift card I got for Christmas and suddenly it was in my hands. (No, I didn't opt for the extended thinger 'The Promise.' I wanted the stripped down bare bones original.) Anyway: Rolling Stone did it again, because Darkness was everything they said it was and more. 10 songs of pure genius- a lot of them very depressing, some of them a little more up-tempo and a palpable theme of struggling in the face of overwhelming odds- sometimes with the hope that things might improve, sometimes with the knowledge that you can push back the darkness and still other times knowing that there's little to no hope and just having to deal with it as best you can.
Needless to say, this album lives up to its somewhat gloomy title. But that doesn't mean it's depressing to listen to. If you've ever struggled in life, you should be able to relate to this album in spades. Songs like 'Factory' or 'Streets on Fire' or even 'Racing In The Streets' take a more sober look at the struggles we face in life and what we do to get by. Other songs like 'Candy's Room' and 'Do It All Night' seem to offer a hope that things are going to get better. Either way: it's about the struggle, not about victory and it's brutally real. Sometimes- and I'm sure in the early 80s/late 70s America this emerged from- it really doesn't end with candy canes and rainbows and sometimes you just have to make do and it's brutal and it's hard and it's not really what the American dream is about. And that, more than anything is what this album is about: the optimism of the American dream, coming back down to Earth.
Musically, this album had a lot of different sounds that we unlike any Springsteen I had ever heard. 'Adam Raised A Cain' which is the second track on the album grabbed my attention immediately, because this was Bruce snarling and rasping his way through a pure blues power ballad, if such a thing can be said to exist. The guitar work is also, well, angrier I guess- snarling, loud, driving guitars pop up throughout this album in a way that seems perfect for the album yet curiously unlike anything else of Bruce's that I had heard.
OVERALL: Everything that it was promised to be and more, this is a compact ball of working class fury, rage and despair all blasting out at you. It's a thing of power, a thing of beauty and has truly converted me to the cult of Springsteen. Tight jeans, muscle shirts and American flag bandana all to follow. (And yada, yada, yada if there's one Spingsteen album you should own, yes it should be this one. Hell, if you're all about rock n'roll you should be owning this album. It's mind-blowingly good.)