"When I was making this particular album, I just had a specific thing in mind. It had to be just a relentless...just a barrage of that particular thing." - Bruce Springsteen
I was listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast with Steven Van Zandt who talked about the album that took Bruce Springsteen three years to finally make, Darkness on the Edge of Town, which was released June 2, 1978. Springsteen had been battling with his manager Mike Appel, trying to regain control of his publishing and make the follow-up to an album that put him on the covers of Time and Newsweek.
"Darkness to me was a tragedy," Van Zandt said, who , for one thing, didn't like the way the drums were closely mic'd instead of mic'd for the room. " I thought it had some of his best songs. Some of his classic songs and I hated the way that thing sounded. Because we didn't know what we were doing. I begged (Springsteen) to let me at least remix it. 'Can I please remix it?' He said, 'Are you nuts? People have gotten used to this thing by now.' It never bothered him. It never bothered anybody but me."
Dave Marsh from Rolling Stone began his review with:
Occasionally, a record appears that changes fundamentally the way we hear rock and roll, the way it's recorded, the way it's played. Such records — Jimi Hendrix' Are You Experienced, Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, Who's Next, The Band — force response, both from the musical community and the audience. To me, these are the records justifiably called classics, and I have no doubt that Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town will someday fit as naturally within that list as the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music."
One ought to be wary of making such claims, but in this case, they're justified at every level. In the area of production, Darkness on the Edge of Town is nothing less than a breakthrough. Springsteen — with coproducer Jon Landau, engineer Jimmy Iovine and Charles Plotkin, who helped Iovine mix the LP — is the first artist to fuse the spacious clarity of Los Angeles record making and the raw density of English productions. That's the major reason why the result is so different from Born to Run's Phil Spector wall of sound. On the earlier album, for instance, the individual instruments were deliberately obscured to create the sense of one huge instrument. Here, the same power is achieved more naturally. Most obviously, Max Weinberg's drumming has enormous size, a heartbeat with the same kind of space it occupies onstage (the only other place I've heard a bass drum sound this big).
"Promised Land," "Badlands," and "Adam Raised a Cain" are models of how an unsophisticated genre can illuminate a mature, full-bodied philosophical insight. Lyrically and vocally, they move from casual to incantatory modes with breathtaking subtlety, jolting ordinary details into meaning. But many of the other songs remain low-color pieces, and at least two -- "Something in the Night" and "Streets of Fire" -- are overwrought, soggy, all but unlistenable. An important minor artist or a rather flawed and inconsistent major one.
On my most recent listen, I was struck by several things: how little Clarence Clemons can be heard on Darkness (only on "Badlands", "The Promised Land" and "Prove It All Night"); the power of Springsteen's blistering guitar solos on "Prove It all Night" and "Badlands"( they are also the best things about "Adam Raised a Cain" "Candy's Room" and "Streets of Fire"). If you want to know why The Boss is considered one of rock's great all time guitarists, listen to Darkness. He really takes his guitar to the edge...of town.