Born and Nebraska were the Bruce albums I loved. Big and brash and hushed and stripped back in turn, and somehow I always neglected Darkness, but after seeing the recent Thom Zimny documentary about the making of the album I had to dig it out. As the film makes clear Springsteen worked on this album. He recorded song after song (many of them recently released on the double album The Promise) and rejected songs considered to be sure-fire hits because they didn't fit his vision for the album.
Darkness deals with what would become a classic Bruce theme: the frustration of the everyman stuck in a provincial, declining town, trying to do his best, trying to get by. And whilst there are big songs on here the tone throughout is a sombre one, a million miles away from the pomp and triumph of Born To Run where he sang, 'Together we could break this trap, We'll run till we drop, baby we'll never go back'. In Darkness there is nowhere left to run, his characters are trapped by circumstance, stuck in a rut and learning to live there. If all that sounds a little dour, well, it is, but it's done deliberately, done with care and compassion. And Bruce, being Bruce, there are still the big tunes. Badlands kicks off the album with pounding drums and a chorus thousands of people can shout back at the band, but the heart of this album is found in songs such as Something In The Night, Factory and the title track, where there is no redemption, nowhere left to run. Darkness is not combatative Bruce; it's resigned and weary Bruce, but a more interesting record because of that.