Leading on from his previous review, Tom Williamson discusses the influence of Darkness on the Edge of Town and explains why it is retrospectively his favourite album
Despite its critical acclaim, Darkness never had the popular impact that some of Springsteen’s other albums did. Sales weren’t lacklustre, but paled in comparison to Born to Run and Born in the USA. The impact isn’t as openly obvious either: you’ll never hear it referenced by suburban mothers at posh dinner parties like Nebraska, and Tom Morello will never release covers of it like Tom Joad.
Unlike Born in the USA, none of the thumping melodies of Darkness ever became confusing election issues. Furthermore, no musicians started to actively copy Springsteen until his conversion to a true pop-rock hybrid with Dancing in the Dark. However, in retrospect, it deserves its critical credit as Marsh’s “threshold of a new era.”
On a primary level, Darkness has been subtly influential on rock and songwriting in general. Beyond the rapping style of Born to Run, the sparse lyrics of Darkness set the standard for how vocalisation and poetry could be used to convey stories and emotion in popular music. Its influence on Heartland Rock is immense (see the “Cougar” era Mellencamp albums like Uh-Huh or Scarecrow, although the musical style is very different).
“The sparse lyrics of Darkness set the standard for how vocalisation and poetry could be used to convey stories and emotion in popular music.”
However, Darkness’ influence is more interesting in terms of how it affected and developed Sprinsteen as an artist. For instance, his heartland politics, so obvious in Tom Joad, The Rising and Nebraska appear first in Darkness: Landau encouraged the subtly political undertone lacked in earlier albums. The thematic and musical innovations remain in the later ensemble albums: the styles change, but the “E Street Band” stick as a pack, and the lyrics retain the overall mature sparseness of the album.
Darkness also influenced the cult of Springsteen. The 1978 Darkness Tour, although not the ultra-long marathon show with massive audience participation that became a staple after the 1980’s The River Tour, laid the groundwork for this style. Still dressed in a suit (the earrings were yet to be added to the wardrobe), the music is often played at a breakneck speed with an unbelievably aggressive screech into the microphone and constant movement, or with long and complex solos interspersed in previously short pieces.
“This perfectly formed encapsulation of a philosophy of hope seems to touch Springsteen”
The (somehow) sober Springsteen howls while the solos become aggressive and the music is injected with an untameable energy. The tour not only encapsulated the album as well as the recordings themselves, but it is part of rock and roll history in laying the groundwork for the 4+ hour concerts that make Springsteen’s tours sell out wherever they go.