Bruce Springsteen

Columbia Records, 1982

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


After the release of The River, Bruce Springsteen had a lot going for him. His previous three albums had been successes, the hits were starting to pile up, and the question became, what would the Boss do next? The answer: ditch the E Street Band and record an acoustic, bleak and depressing album the likes of which he had never attempted before.

The power of Springsteen's music has always come from his ability to weave intense narratives, much like Dylan. Often times however, the story would get lost in the "Springsteen experience." Albums like Born To Run and Greetings From Asbury Park N.J. featured great songwriting, but the sound of the records could overshadow them. Here on Nebraska, in chilling detail, there is nothing else but these tales of isolation and loneliness. Yet hope springs eternal, and this is also true of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nebraska.

The opening title track tells the story of Charlie Starkweather, a murderer of the worst degree. There is no condemnation, no preaching from the pulpit that rock and roll has a tendency to be, there is simply the story of a man who is faced with "that great void," and who wants his baby "sittin' right there on my lap." Without a doubt, "Nebraska" ranks up there as one of the most powerful lyrics Springsteen has written.

However, the title track is not the only song dealing with the law. "Johnny 99," "State Trooper" and "Highway Trooper" all deal with authority in some way, and how some rebel against it. The latter track tells the story of two brothers, one of whom is a police officer. Throughout the course of their lives, the officer turns the other cheek in regards to his brother's actions. However, one night gets out of hand, and the officer ends up chasing his brother to the Canadian border, where he "pulled over the side of the highway and watched his taillights disappear." In the end, as the character himself says, "Nothin' feels better than blood on blood."

Much of the talk so far has been about what Springsteen has to say, more than how he says it. The simple reality is this album would have been a failure if it had been presented in any other fashion. Instead of hearing Clarence Clemons blasting away on the sax, or Max Weinberg pounding away on the drums, the listener has just a man and his guitar. With each track, Springsteen jumps into each character's skin and becomes them. One can hear the heartbreak during "My Father's House," or in direct contrast the joy that is contained within "Open All Night," or the primal rage screamed in "State Trooper." The tracks on Nebraska say more to me as a feeling human than any other Springsteen album save perhaps The Rising.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The very last track, "Reason To Believe," highlights all the toils and troubles people go through in life, yet at "the end of every hard-earned day people find some reason to believe." Nebraska at first listen may seem to imply that there is no hope, and at times it is hard to get over the apparent meaninglessness Springsteen attributes to the lives of his characters, but in the end I can't help but think Bruce intentionally placed this track as the album's closer. The greatest statement Nebraska makes is that people go on.

Rating: A

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