It’s almost impossible to imagine Bruce Springsteen’s predicament back in 1977. Two years earlier, Springsteen and the E Street Band released the epic Born to Run, arguably the greatest rock album of all time. The record had everything: great hooks on every track, lyrical beauty, and in its two cornerstone pieces, “Backstreets” and “Jungleland”, a sweeping operatic majesty. The album was mythic urban romance writ large. But after that big noise, silence. A lawsuit from the band’s manager, Mike Appel, prevented Springsteen from recording for close to three years, an eternity in the ‘70s music industry. By 1978, Springsteen was the invisible man in American music.
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town is a documentary of Springsteen and the E-Street Band recording their 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, the crucial follow-up to Born to Run (for brevity and clarity, I’ll refer to the documentary as The Promise and the album as simply Darkness). The stakes are remarkably high and the film is reminiscent of the Beatles’ Let It Be, as we glimpse a band under the pressure of expectations. Darkness is a flawed album, and The Promise reveals why. Back in the studio after years of exile, Springsteen is determined to make an album that reflects the betrayal and disappointment of the last three years. The documentary shows Springsteen and the E-Street band in the studio, banging out song after song, take after take. It’s fascinating to see Springsteen and his band mates at the zenith of their powers.