Artist: "Bruce Springsteen"
Album: "Nebraska"
Genre: Folk
Label: Columbia

Reviewer: Protoclown
Posted: 8/27/2008

Review: I'm not going to say that Nebraska is Springsteen's best album, given the strength of some of his other work and the absence of the E Street Band here, but I will say that it's without a doubt my favorite album of his. It's a quiet, sparse, melodic album, often featuring nothing more than the sound of Springsteen's raspy, echoing voice over his acoustic guitar, and when you hear it, you realize that's all it needs. The final album tracks are actually the demos that Springsteen brought in before recording the songs with the E Street Band, and upon listening to them with his sound engineer, they realized that the starkly haunting lonely folk sound in the demos was better suited for these songs than giving them the full E Street treatment. It sounds like it was recorded in a lonely farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and that's exactly how this collection of songs should sound.

This is one of those albums that may take a couple listens to fully appreciate, because the songs themselves are quiet and take some time to sink into your subconscious, but also because the lyrics are so important, and you're not likely to catch everything on your first or even second time through. The thing I like best about Springsteen's music is that his songs often tell stories, usually bleak and depressing tales of people struggling through difficult times. The stories on this album are some of his most powerful. In the opening song, "Nebraska", a man who awaits his execution after a senseless killing spree shows no remorse for his actions and offers up no explanation for what he did, which sort of sets the tone for the whole album. In "Atlantic City", the narrator has racked up a debt he can't pay and tries to reassure his girl that everything will be okay after he's offered a job with an organized crime family.

But my favorite song on the album is probably "Highway Patrolman" (which was awesomely covered by Johnny Cash, by the way), about a police officer in a small Ohio town whose brother goes off to fight in Vietnam and upon coming back can't find any steady work and often finds himself in trouble with the law. One night the officer gets a call about his brother Frankie having been in a bar fight and possibly killing a man, and he ostensibly chases him through Michigan but eventually lets him go across the Canadian border, watching his tail lights disappear, saying "when it's your brother, sometimes you look the other way." In just one five and a half minute song, Springsteen manages to paint such a vivid picture you feel like you really know these characters and their lives--you may as well have just watched a movie about them.

Other songs on the album are about a kid from the poor side of town sneaking out at night to watch a party going on at a mansion in the rich district and dreaming of a life he can never have; one has the narrator driving a car and praying that the state trooper who he sees in his rearview doesn't pull him over after getting away with some unknown but terrible crime. In another, the narrator has a bad dream about his estranged father and drives out to his house to make amends, but when he arrives, a stranger answers the door and tells him that no such person lives there anymore.

These songs are as depressing as they are powerful and beautiful. Nebraska is not a fun album, it's not a party album--this is the album you listen to while driving alone in the middle of the night, as far from cities as your wheels will take you. And once it gets in your head it will stay with you forever.

Overall rating: WholeWholeWholeWholeWhole
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)

Reader Comments

Aug 27th, 2008, 07:52 AM
According to your review, I believe that this is something I might enjoy. I will try to look for it and give it a try.
Aug 27th, 2008, 09:38 AM
Funny you should mention the driving-in-the-night...my first experience of this album was on a lonely road, and man, it made for some beautiful bleakness. I still have the title track, "State Trooper" and "My Father's House" loaded up on the ipod. Whenever anyone disses the Boss, I give them a copy of this.
1.21 Gigawatts!!!
Aug 28th, 2008, 01:08 PM
I am not a huge fan of the Boss, so I have never listened to most of his work. Many of the tracks that I have heard are the mainstream hits such as “Thunder Road” and “Born in the U.S.A.”. For “Nebraska”, I have heard that Springsteen was in a low point when he made the album, and a lot of the tracks were personal depictions and observations on life. While “Born in the U.S.A” and “Glory Days” shortly followed, Springsteen’s “Nebraska” has been considered to be an influential and important album within his legacy. While I do not always care for his semi-incoherent rumblings, I can have great respect for the man that put such emotion and influence into his work.
Aug 28th, 2008, 04:17 PM
I think Nebraska is Springsteen's *best* album even without the E-Street band. The elements are still there though clearly it's not a "rock" album. But so what? It's every bit as honest and heartfelt as anything constructed with the E-Street Band. It goes deeper, there is self-examination and a handful of sad stories that sting, and I think it's conveyed musically as well, even if some of that music seems minimalist in comparison to the Springsteen rock albums. The lyrics are gorgeous and as you point out, it's really good solo driving music. I do tend to associate Springsteen and driving anyway, though.

Did you know that JC did "Johnny 99" also...? See the Cash album Johnny 99. Both "Highway Patrolman" and "Johnny 99" are on there. (I have a copy of it but it is on vinyl and I am without my turntable or I'd offer to let you listen sometime soon.)