Sessions with the E-Street Band for the follow up to The River were unsatisfactory, so Landau and Springsteen instead released Springsteen’s solo demos as the finished album. Although Asbury Park may seem to be the closest antecedent in Springsteen’s prior catalogue to these stripped back guitar, harmonica and vocal arrangements, Nebraska is closest in tone to the dark and pessimistic Darkness On The Edge Of Town. The title track is based around the story of 1958 mass murderer Charlie Starkweather, songs like ‘State Trooper’ and ‘Highway Patrolman’ are underscored by a eerily muted paranoia, and even the closing ‘Reason To Believe’ is guarded in its optimism.
Apart from the immediate ‘Atlantic City’, with its memorable “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact/But maybe everything that dies one day comes back” refrain, it’s difficult to pick out the individual songs, and Nebraska works primarily as a mood piece. It’s easy to see how this batch of songs has its maximum impact as an acoustic set; while ‘Atlantic City’ and ‘Mansion On The Hill’ have strong melodies, and ‘Open All Night’ is a typical Springsteen rocker that would fit right onto The River, the majority of these songs aren’t particularly interesting musically, and the record is carried by its claustrophobic atmosphere and its strong lyrics.
Nebraska has its own singular charm, and it’s the Springsteen album for those who detest his more bombastic moments.