Saying Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska is an album for winter is saying nothing new. If you’ve not heard of this album, just look at that artwork. I can feel the slushy brown snow soaking its way up my socks now.
If like me, you went from the excitement of Born To Run and the romanticism of Darkness on the Edge of Town to the restrained, dour Nebraska, and thought holy shit where the fuck is everything and everyone (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and that’s it really – just The Boss by this point, no E Street Band), and then had to put Born in The U.S.A. on to cheer yourself up, give Nebraska another listen now while you wait for your socks to dry on the stove.
Whilst not out–and–out misery, with an ambiguity to the lyrics, Nebraska remains stark, bleak, solitary–listening music. The lyrics are about working class characters (generally men) at a moment of crisis; two brothers on opposite sides of the law (Highway Patrolman), an out of work man who gets 99 years for shooting someone during a robbery (Johnny 99) and streams of consciousness from men driving through the night with a lot on their mind (State Trooper and Open All Night). While sometimes this approach has resulted in Springsteen’s lyrics being favoured to the point of the music barely being there (I found this to be a recurring issue on later album The Ghost of Tom Joad), on Nebraska there’s a balance between this starkness with melodies and rhythms that feel more solid. That said, even livelier tracks like Johnny 99, Open All Night and Reason To Believe become a lot more downbeat upon closer listening. It’s this balance, paired with the lyrical search for hope in the gloom, that makes for a good winter listen; something to go on when it’s always dark, cold, miserable and the world seems against you. Even if it’s just in the form of wet socks.
Everything dies baby, that’s a fact
but maybe everything that dies
someday comes back
– Atlantic City.