I used to hate Bruce Springsteen. Fact. And if you were a kid born and raised in South Jersey, this was as sacrilegious as it could get. Then, over a decade ago, a roommate of mine in Boston caught wind of this and after an hour of trying to convince me that I just “didn’t get it yet” and decided to finish off the argument right then and there by slapping Nebraska on. Needless to say, I suddenly got it. I’ve since become a huge fan of the Boss, singing his praises and even tossing the word “genius” around with no regrets. I’ve come to appreciate just about everything the man has made in his career but it all started with this album.
Let’s start by talking about the songwriting first. Side A introduces us to quite the rogues gallery of serial killers (“Nebraska”), two brothers on opposing sides of the law (“Highway Patrolman”), and a criminal tensely making his way down the highway looking to avoid an ugly confrontation with the law (“State Trooper”). Now, the Boss has always had a bit of bite to his songs (you didn’t really think “Glory Days” was an upbeat song, did you?) but here on Nebraska, they go deeper and bleaker. These are people who have generally just fucked their lives up but he’s not praising or condemning them. Instead, he’s making us understand them. America has dark and occasionally ugly roads and with this album, Bruce is making us travel them with him.
Now let’s talk sound. From “Nebraska” to “Open All Night” to “Reason To Believe” you might notice that it sounds a bit like it’s just Bruce doing it solo, like he’s recording a demo in his house (likely in the dark). Well, truth is, that’s exactly what this album is. What was supposed to be the basic outline for the E Street Band’s follow up to The River was a stripped down masterpiece that both Bruce and the record company decided to release as is. So basically, the Boss accomplished something that so many punk and indie bands spend so much time, energy, and money to replicate.
Some personal favorites are “State Trooper” on Side A and the album’s closing track Side B’s “Reason To Believe.” Bruce says he was inspired by the amazing NYC punk-synth band Suicide while making Nebraska and it’s very evident on “State Trooper.” But it’s still “Reason To Believe” that takes it for me. Perfect lyrics and the charm of hearing a musical genius grasping to figure out the song he’s writing and come out on top.
Yeah, I owe that old roommate a lot for this one.