Friday, March 20, 2009
DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
What do you do when you've made a huge record, the covers of TIME and Newsweek and managed not to collapse under the weight of that pesky "New Dylan" boulder, dropped upon your shoulders by every music writer that could grasp a pen?
You get sued by your ex-manager, don't make a record for three years and tour like mad.
Bruce Springsteen, this is your life!
"Darkness on the Edge of Town" is great for many reasons. Namely, it is the product of sessions recorded live off the floor. I can't stress this enough: Don't overdub yourself to death, unless YOU are the one playing all of the instruments. If you have a good band, why leave the poor bastards to sit around and play cards when they could be doing their thing all together and making your album sound fantastic? Bruce understood this concept quite well. Despite the excellence of the "Born to Run" LP (and it is a classic) he was not overjoyed with the final mix and would have re-recorded the whole thing with everyone playing live, if he'd had his way.
With "Darkness", he did. That's why I rate it as the best thing he ever committed to tape. ("Nebraska" comes in second)
One thing that has always bothered me in reading overviews of Springsteen's work is that his skills as a guitarist are rarely mentioned or downplayed in favor of his talent as a songwriter. Here's a fine example of why he should get a hell of a lot more credit than he does as a lead player.
"Prove it All Night" also happened to be one of two single releases from this disc. "Badlands" was the follow up.
Fine songs, though neither were monster hits. This was intended, however, as the focus was to create something that would outlive its time and not bend to crass commercial interests. So the proceedings are fairly low key, thoughtful and the mood evoked is sombre and edgy. Thematically, the songs hang together extremely well and it is easy to get drawn into the pictures he's painting. Social concerns begin to show up in the lyrics. "Factory" says more in two minutes about the despair of those trapped in the blue collar confines of industrial labor than any documentary could hope to convey.
"Racing in the Street" is the heartbeat that gives blood to all of the other tracks here.
Without a doubt, the focus of his writing is razor sharp, somehow managing to touch on universal subjects with ease. I come back to this one every once and a while and it always delivers. He had (and still has) an incredibly gifted and sympathetic group of players behind him in the E Street Band, who were very much a part of the atmosphere created. You can see the interior of that '69 Chevy and almost taste the bitter early morning air on the way to a job you despise because these guys have expertly set the mood.
That's if you've taken the time to really listen.