Coming three years, and one extended court battle, after the commercial breakthrough of Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town was highly anticipated. Some attributed the album's embattled tone to Springsteen's legal troubles, but it carried on from Born to Run, in which Springsteen had first begun to view his colorful cast of characters as "losers." On Darkness, he began to see them as the working class. One song was called "Factory," and in another, "Badlands," "you" work "'neath the wheel / Till you get your facts learned." Those "facts" are that "Poor man wanna be rich / Rich man wanna be king / And a king ain't satisfied / Till he rules everything." But Springsteen's characters, some of whom he inhabited and sang for in the first person, had little and were in danger of losing even that. Their only hope for redemption lay in working harder -- "You gotta live it everyday," he sang in "Badlands," but you also, as another song noted, have to "Prove It All Night." And their only escape lay in driving. Springsteen presented these hard truths in hard rock settings, the tracks paced by powerful drumming and searing guitar solos. Though not as heavily produced as Born to Run, Darkness was given a full-bodied sound, with prominent keyboards and double-tracked vocals. Springsteen's stories were becoming less heroic, but his musical style remained grand. Yet the sound, and the conviction in his singing, added weight to songs like "Racing in the Street" and the title track, transforming the pathetic into the tragic. But despite the rock & roll fervor, Darkness was no easy listen, and it served notice that Springsteen was already willing to risk his popularity for his principles. Indeed, Darkness was not as big a seller as Born to Run. And it presaged even starker efforts, such as Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann