Monday, January 31, 2011

Rich Men Want To Be Kings: Springsteen

Poor men want to be rich, rich men want to be kings,
And a king ain't satisfied until he rules everything - "Badlands"
"Controlling the narrative" isn't something I like to associate with rock 'n' roll. It's more the habit of desperate politicians or tin-pot dictators. In the end, any attempt to write your own history is fleeting at best, no matter how much power or wealth you may have. As Joe Strummer said, "the future is unwritten."

Yet it's a pursuit more and more (aging) rockers are engaged in due to the increasing prevalence of reissues and the hoopla that surrounds each release. When inspiration and cash run thin, the mind tends to focus on secure investments, legacy issues and, sadly, revisionism. Enter the Boss. In 2005, when Born To Run was reissued, it marked thirty years since the original and the renewed fanfare was justified. But what excuse is there for another look at 1978's Darkness On The Edge Of Town? The album has its moments, but it's certainly not a "classic."

The recent reissue deepens the original sin - ham-fisted pretense, brow-furled pomposity, self-important naval get the picture. The original was the work of a mid-20's adolescent who was desperate to be taken seriously and join the hallowed ranks of masters like Lou Reed, Neil Young or Bob Dylan. No more horsing around with "Big Man" Clarence...

Now just the bruises and scratches of a lone wolf racing in the backstreets.

Darkness was a retreat and a let-down from the elated celebration of Born To Run. Springsteen knew he could never repeat its dizzy heights so he rejected any tunes that may have raised the specter of "Thunder Road" or "Jungleland." Predictably, whenever an artist feels stifled, the work suffers. True, it marked the beginning of another conversation that achieved its greatest expression in 1982's bleak Nebraska, but it fell short. "Badlands" is stiff and strident, like a marching band attempting funk; "Factory" is naïve and trite; and "The Promised Land" is the sound of one man's reach exceeding his grasp. Its best moments are the sadness of "Racing in the Street", the intensity of "Adam Raised a Cain", and the bruised grandeur of my favourite, "Darkness On The Edge Of Town" (check out that sustained note @ 3:51 and watch his body flail).

A smooth, opening piano riff recalls the lights of Broadway before the lead up to the chorus busts in to shoot it all to hell. It's an intense and revelatory performance on an album with far too design. The reissue drives this home. On the accompanying DVD, Springsteen says he cut out anything that sounded like Born To Run and the shitload of extras (3 CDs and 3 DVDs) is an admission of the original's inferiority...which begs the question: why a reissue?


  1. Interesting. It's my favourite Springsteen album.

  2. the song "darkness" is in the top 10 of my fave boss tunes, but the album ranks lower for me. thx for commenting!