Picks and Pans Review: Nebraska
An auto plant closes and an unemployed worker saddled with "debts no honest man could pay" goes on a drunken rampage. A boy whose family must settle for a shabby used car ruefully dreams of hitting the lottery. A highway patrolman whose credo is family loyalty finds he can no longer "look the other way" when his ne'er-do-well brother attacks a man in a bar. These are among the dramas—melodramas, really—Springsteen relates in his gripping and brave new album. Earlier this year, accompanying himself on acoustic and (just on one cut) electric guitar, Bruce let the 10 songs fairly spew out onto a simple four-track recorder at his New Jersey home. The tape was to have been the blueprint for a new LP with the E Street Band. Instead, as the band began working out arrangements, the tape's artistic inviolability became obvious, and it was decided to release it virtually au naturel. Built of folk, blues and boogies, the music echoes bits of Dylan, Woody Guthrie, John Lee Hooker and (in Open All Night) Chuck Berry. The lyrics, though, and the delivery are pure, potent Springsteen. He doesn't uplift you as Guthrie did, make you laugh as Berry did, dazzle you with imagery as Dylan did (indeed, cars and highways are almost his only symbols). He may not be that gifted. He merely grabs your heart with his sincerity, his conviction, his sober need to share the bare-boned truths he sees. It's this quality that saves him again and again from sounding merely homely and hackneyed. That and his passionate identification with the common man. This is an album about hard times, for and about America today. Its heroes are overworked, underpaid or just unemployed underdogs—unbowed and unwilling to surrender their dreams. Springsteen in his own way may be the closest thing to a Woody Guthrie in a long time. Nebraska—a major commercial risk since nobody is likely to go around singing or dancing to these songs—shows him to be one of the most unpretentious and uncorrupted stars we have.
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