Since September 20, 1982, when Columbia Records held its corporate breath and released Nebraska, Bruce Springsteen’s sixth album has been analyzed as a punk album, a folk album, a blues album, a country album, a rock ‘n’ roll album, and a gospel album. Its vibe, cinematic lyricism, and sense of place influenced the work of musicians, film writers, and authors working across numerous genre. Scores of singers and song writers, prominent among them Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, John Wesley Harding, and the Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins, testified to Nebraska’s far reaching impact on their creativity, and their lives. Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams III and at least a dozen other recording artists covered tracks from Nebraska for their own albums. In 2006, Michelle Shocked, Martha Wainwright, Vernon Reid, and others recreated Nebraska live on stage at the Guitar Festival in New York. Sub-Pop released a Nebraska tribute album. “Highway Patrolman,” the 5 minute, 40 second song near the end of side one, morphed into a full length motion picture, The Indian Runner. Tennessee Jones’ short stories collection, Deliver Me from Nowhere, was inspired by Nebraska. Within the past year, two books about Nebraska hit bookstores, one in English, one in Italian.

Thirty years down the road, what’s left to say about these mythical stories of murder, hard times, and family strife? The answer, surprisingly, is quite a lot, owing to the fact that many historically important Nebraska reviews, originally published in languages other than English, have been largely ignored by those who reexamined the influence of the album over the years.

To this day, most English-reading fans have never been exposed to Nebraska as it was perceived throughout Scandinavia and Western Europe. Most also missed out on insightful work by influential writers such as Geert Hendrickx of The Netherlands, Gerald Hundgen of Germany, Italy’s “Blue” Bottazzi, and the French journalist Laurent Chalumeau, as revered in their own countries as, say, Robert Christgau, Paul Nelson and Lester Bangs were at the time in the US and Patrick Humphries was in the UK.

There is also this: had those reviews been translated and internationally read back when Nebraska was first released, maybe, just maybe, we, as listeners, would have gained an even greater appreciation for the theme of universality which lies at the very core of Springsteen’s masterpiece.


As a derivative language, English shares roots, traditions, and structure with modern European languages. Idiosyncratic differences, however, complicate the translation of articles from those languages into English. Small, common words sometimes lose meaning in translation, as do culturally-specific concepts. A French journalist, for instance, told how Joe Robert’s brother, fleeing toward Canada on “Highway Patrolman,” “rides his Gold Wing.” Quick, what’s a Gold Wing? Another writer, fairly translated, called Springsteen concert goers “paying pigs,” although in context his intent seemed far less derogatory. Other examples abound.

On the one hand, therefore, the European reviews contain linguistic and cultural elements that might puzzle readers of English, even in translation. Despite these difficulties, four unambiguous points of view, published in newspapers and magazines across the Continent, characterized the widely held European reaction to Nebraska:

* SHOCK. Until early fall of 1982, when news of a solo album first broke, journalists in Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, The Netherlands and Italy had been expecting a big rock record as Springsteen’s follow-up to The River; many confidently predicted it to be the “promised” and long awaited live album. In this regard, their preconceptions were very much in line with those of journalists in the US, Canada, and the UK. In Italy, however, Ciao 2001 reported that anticipation of a rock album was so great that many Italians, upon hearing the news of a forthcoming acoustic album, “were frightened and disillusion set in.” In The Netherlands, journalist Geert Hendrickx likewise detected a fear that Nebraska would be nothing more than “a collection of insignificant songs.”

* PRAISE. Once the needle dropped on Nebraska vinyl, reviewers in newsrooms around the Continent unanimously embraced the album, calling it “splendid,” “definitive,” and “astonishing,” with songs that are “10 perfect jewels.” Some quibbled over small points, but all praised the content, the song writing, and Springsteen’s courage for taking such an obviously risky step. Their unanimity stands in contrast to reactions in North America and the UK, where, although in the distinct minority, a small band of reviewers dismissed Nebraska as “dull” and “boring,” and Springsteen’s work on it as “dead-end.”

* THEMATIC VISION. In 1982, as Nebraska shipped to record shops, unemployment rates in Europe were soaring toward the highest levels in decades, the result of a severe economic recession affecting much of the developed world. Living with the daily consequences of economic blight, many of the European music journalists who reviewed Nebraska understood Springsteen’s stories of wasted lives and hell on earth to be rooted in universal truths, as relevant on the streets of Rome as on the assembly line in Mahwah.

Italian journalist Francesco Coli, for instance, declared in Buscadero that the depictions of unemployment, crime, and family crises on Nebraska “are the topics on every person’s mind in this day and age.” Stefano Mannucci, writing in Italy’s Rockstar Numero Uno, hammered on the same theme, crediting Springsteen with taking the side of “millions of people whose economic illusions and disillusions were paid for at a high price.” Springsteen’s setting might be America, he wrote, but “the songs on Nebraska are about a new depression, sprung from a vastness that swallows and annihilates” all but the elite few, irrespective of national boundaries.

In France, Laurent Chalumeau described Nebraska in Rock & Folk as a “record about man, about a fantasy of humanity,” and if, he said, the stories are pieces of Americana, they are nonetheless important to the rest of the world because what happens to the American dream “affects everybody,” right down to “the kid from Aubervilliers [a northeastern Paris suburb], because of the jeans he wears or the pose he strikes.”

* ANALYTIC UNANIMITY. This sense of universality exerted a strong influence on the way European reviewers interpreted Springsteen’s motives for releasing such a dark, gritty solo record. “Why has he done it?” asked Santini in Tutto. “Why, Bruce Springsteen, the man who showed a new road to rock music, the man whose fame is tied to a legendary band, why has he done this? Turmoil between him and the band? A personality crisis? Not at all. An artistic identity is growing in him and it’s progressively overshadowing the rocker template he worked so hard on.” In Buscadero, Coli argued that with so many people victimized by economics, Springsteen wrote Nebraska “because there was a need to say certain things at this precise moment.” His counterpart at Rockstar Numero Uno agreed: Nebraska, stated Mannucci, “is the fruit of an urgent, burning necessity that had to be expressed before it was too late.”

Embareck, a French journalist and, in later years, a prize winning novelist, argued in Best that by 1982, Springsteen had the personal and artistic integrity to do whatever he felt necessary. “If Bruce wanted to play the helicon, he would be the brass band leader,” Embareck wrote. “Call it whatever you want: class, feeling, respect or charisma. It’s a pleasure. He can do everything he wants. Even breaking his fame.” Added Chalumeau in Rock & Folk: Bruce Springsteen is “the only one who can speak on behalf of all these people.” He didn’t write Nebraska because he wanted to; no, Nebraska was written “because he had no choice. He did what he had to do.”

Against that backdrop, here are keynote samples from each of the recently translated reviews of Nebraska contained in the archives of The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection.


Expressen, the nationwide evening tabloid, uses a wasp as its symbol; its slogan is “it stings.” Yet when Mats Bråstedt reviewed Nebraska in the Sept. 9, 1982 edition, he did so without a single drop of venom. “This LP,” he wrote, “crushes everything.”

“It should be said right away that Nebraska is the strangest and darkest record Springsteen has made. The only one that comes close is the honest sadness and anger he showed on Darkness on the Edge of Town.” On Nebraska, Bråstedt said, “Springsteen portrays people who for various reasons have fallen out of step with the normal order, and who are forced to live in the black hole known as alienation.”

The first song that “truly got to me,” Bråstedt said, was “Johnny 99.” “I put on the headphones, turned the volume up to max and came really close to the song. My eyes teared up, my throat closed up, and I had to turn off the stereo. This happened several times while I played Nebraska. When I got to ‘My Father’s House,’ the pain was almost unbearable.”

“To me,” he wrote, Springsteen “will always be a guide, a shining beacon who shows the passion, honesty, humbleness and right to fight for the life one wants to live. He will always be the only rock artist, Neil Young excepted, who I turn to when I want to know something about the state of the world.”

Writing on the same day, music critic Olle Berggren told readers of Kvällsposten, a daily newspaper circulating in southern Sweden, that Nebraska was “daring,” with songs “of the same caliber we have come to expect from Bruce Springsteen the songwriter.” According to Berggren, “Mansion on the Hill,” for instance, is “beautiful, the voice and text gives one shivers.” On the entire album, he wrote, Springsteen has “toned down the glamour, exposed his entire persona, maintained his integrity” and avoided the corrupting influence of stardom.”

In the music magazine Soundi, reviewer Alex Oinonen declared that “if this record doesn’t touch you, nothing will. Nebraska is the most significant record of Springsteen’s career. It is a record that only a great artist could make.” Oinonen called the 10 songs on Nebraska “hypnotically captivating. They are haunted, anguished, melancholic, dark-shaded.” By releasing an album of this magnitude and style, Oinonen concluded that Springsteen “doesn’t give a damn about the cult of money and stardom. Men like him are rare in the rock industry today.” (October 1982).

The German music magazine Spex had the subtitle “Musik zur Zeit.” Narrowly translated, “Musik zur Zeit” means “music of the times,” and in 1982 Germany, that meant punk and New Wave. Spex editor, co-founder, and music reviewer Gerald Hundgen fit Nebraska into that context, applauded its rawness, currency, and relevancy, which he said were the result of Springsteen’s innate ability to write from experience. “In the tradition of the great American songwriters like Robert Johnson, Hank Williams and Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen makes do without any explicit ‘message.’ Who needs messages when it is experiences that count?” (October 25, 1982.)

So complete were “the scenarios from every single song,” Hundgen wrote, that each separately could have been made into a motion picture “in the fashion of traditional Hollywood dramas about misery and hope, crime and punishment, failing and coming home.”

Shortest of all the European reviews came in the December 1982 German issue of Playboy, a skimpy three paragraphs by music reviewer Jurgen Kalwa. Kalwa put forth the questionable proposition that on Nebraska, Springsteen “cheerfully sings lamenting folk ballads” drawing, for inspiration, upon his “previously used, much-varied street scenarios.”

Short, too, but more insightful, was Geert Hendrickx’ review in the Sept. 22, 1982 Muziekkrant OOR, a well-established and respected music newspaper. In Dutch, “OOR” means “ear,” and at the risk of stretching the point, Hendrickx’ ear seemed well attuned to the nuances and creative styling on Nebraska.

For Hendrickx, the first six songs — from “Nebraska” through “State Trooper” — were especially significant, “without exception populated by individuals who, as a result of social complications, have gone over the edge in a terrible and frequently violent way. The lyrics are mostly written from the perspective of the protagonists, which helps the listener come to an understanding of their horrific course of action. Involuntarily one thinks of Taxi Driver, just like when Springsteen talks about his father during stage shows, conjuring up certain images from Raging Bull.”

Hendrickx also identified similarities between Nebraska and literature, citing “the bitter youthful memory of ‘Used Cars’ and the double interpretable ‘My Father’s House.’ To not even mention the countless references to American music history. There is, among others, ‘Johnny 99,’ a rocker in the tradition of Chuck Berry, about an adolescent who is – not coincidentally – blessed with the talent of ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ This way associations are being appealed to continuously and almost casually, which give you something to think about.”

Writing for the October 1982 issue of Rock & Folk, Laurent Chalumeau penned one of the most surprising of all Nebraska reviews. Making no bones about it, Chalumeau bluntly told readers: “I’m not a fan” of Bruce Springsteen. “To give you an example, The River is a big stagnant puddle for me.”

Then, a revelation. “I have just had my eyes opened.” Nebraska, he wrote, is “splendid.”

On this “awesome record,” there is “more dirty and desolate violence than in any Peckinpah movie.” When the subject is “cops and thugs killing each other,” Springsteen sings “as if his neck had been rubbed with a cheese grater.” When the subject switches to highways, cars and factory, Springsteen sings “like a sugary Paul Simon.”

According to Chalumeau, this is “Lincoln with a guitar in his hand,” searching through the “dog’s lives” of the cops, convicts, and other assorted losers, trying to find something worth holding on to that “they haven’t managed to mess up yet.”

Had anyone other than Bruce Springsteen released Nebraska, added Chalumeau, “I would have thrown him out of town, persona non grata.”

Chalumeau’s countryman, journalist Michel Embareck, predicted in Best that Nebraska would sell so poorly that Springsteen “will not be able to buy a new shirt” with the proceeds. Although Springsteen did sacrifice record sales for content and creative impulse, Embareck’s prediction failed the test of time, as Nebraska eventually sold over a million copies.

The core of his October 1982 review, however, rings true today. “When the master of the world is ready to risk his title, it is an event,” Embareck wrote. “His albums are more awaited than water in Sahel,” the ecoclimatic zone in northern African known for historic droughts.

“And what does he do, instead of striking while the iron of fame is hot, like an average Ted Nugent would have done? He records a new album that no one thought would be like this.” Springsteen has written “a novel, an American novel of the humble street people” and he succeeded because “everything is inside the words, in his way of talking, even if the words are as simple as hello.”

Italy’s economic turmoil and social unrest began early, during the 1970s, and carried over into the ’80s, which may help explain why Italian reviewers such as Rockstar Numero Uno’s Stefano Mannucci analyzed “the new depression” described on Nebraska as one in which “the vision of a promised land vanishes in the distance, like a mirage.”

That said, he went on to praise Nebraska as “the definitive acoustic album in the history of traditional American music … Until yesterday Springsteen was the greatest rocker ever to appear on the scene; now he is the only American legend worthy of the name.” (November 1982.)

The theme of crushing economics also rang true at RadiocorriereTV. Nebraska, wrote Carlo Massarini in the Oct.17, 1982 edition, is “the other side of the American dream,” where the only real hope is to “win a lottery so you shouldn’t ever have to ride in no ‘used car’ again.” The songs, Massarini wrote, are “dark, tragic, and obsessive” but represent a side of an author who, no matter what success may bring, “won’t ever forget his roots.”

Editors at Il Mucchio Selvaggio (which translates, literally, as The Wild Bunch) assigned Nebraska to a young music writer named “Blue” Bottazzi; in 2012, Bottazzi is still covering Springsteen, having also established himself as a cardiologist, computer programmer, and author. With a nod toward economic hard times, Bottazzi wrote in November 1982 that Nebraska is “grey as the lack of love, red as blood. The long straight road running beyond the windshield on the cover photo, stretching from Nebraska to Wyoming, is haunted by death and desolation, and by poverty and jail.”

For perspective, Bottazzi noted that in “‘Lost in the Flood’ (on the first album), we are all by the side of the robber when a policeman took his life with a perfectly aimed shot. Spanish Johnny in ‘Incident on 57th Street’ (on the second album), is looking for easy money, because that’s his way of surviving. The drug dealer in ‘Meeting Across the River’ knows what he’s living for: two grand. The thief in ‘Stolen Car’ has no future, but we can see in his heart the disillusion for a love that has been.”

Nebraska, he wrote, is different. “The point of view is not the struggle of an undefended individual against injustice, but the lives of those outcasts dragging themselves in a crude, squalid, meaningless world. Guilt and death mean nothing to them. They don’t fear guilt or death because they have no ‘reason to believe’ as it said in the last song.” And that, Bottazzi concluded, is “a quite original point of view in the rock music world.”

For the October 1982 issue of Buscadero, Francesco Coli welcomed Nebraska as “captivating,” a record that “reaches straight to our hearts. Only a personality with strong character, a master of himself, could accomplish this.” That, he wrote, is why Springsteen “is respected by all.” To which Fabio Santini at Tutto added that Springsteen, “maybe the greatest rocker of our time,” had infused Nebraska with a highly individual point of view about the “meeting point between individual and society.” (December 1982.)

What, then, about those Italians who were frightened and disillusioned when they first heard about a solo acoustic album?

Not to worry. “After a first listen, really after the first harmonica chords opening the record, one can feel completely reassured about Bruce’s talent,” wrote Ciao 2001’s reviewer (November 21, 1982.) “Nebraska is sung with such an intense feeling that the artist is more a voice of a whole generation than a simple songwriter.” It is, the reviewer concluded, “a heartbreaking album we will wear out during winter nights.”
Overall, The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection contains 63 Nebraska reviews in magazines, newspapers, and other journals, published in 11 countries, most of which are sampled in the following survey of critical reactions.


“Flying in the face of a sagging record industry with an intensely personal project that could easily alienate radio, rock’s gutsiest mainstream performer has dramatically reclaimed his right to make the records he wants to make, and damn the consequences. This is the bravest of Springsteen’s six records; it’s also his most startling, direct and chilling. And if it’s a risky move commercially, Nebraska is also a tactical masterstroke, an inspired way out of the high-stakes rock & roll game that requires each record to be bigger and grander than the last. Nebraska is an acoustic triumph, a basic folk album on which Springsteen has stripped his art down to the core.”
—Steve Pond, Rolling Stone, October 28, 1982 Rating: 4.5/5

Nebraska is an astonishing change for Springsteen, – a definitive acoustic album in the history of American folk music. Bruce not only demonstrates that he’s the only one today who can sing with just a guitar, but he also shows his extraordinary versatility – as if there were any need to. Until yesterday, he was the greatest rocker of his generation, now he is the only American legend worthy of the name.”
—Stefano Mannucci, Rockstar Numero Uno (Italy), November 1982 Rating: 5/5

“Consisting largely of Mr. Springsteen’s performing solo on acoustic guitar, Nebraska, strictly speaking, is hardly rock’n’ roll. But its risk-taking rawness – as well as its sympathetic but unforgiving depiction, in Mr. Springsteen’s words, of ‘characters out on the edge,’ traveling ‘from nowhere to nowhere’ – is driven by the rebellion at the heart of that music.”
—Anthony DeCurtis, The New York Times, December 31, 2000 Unrated

“It’s usually a mistake to praise any piece of art for the themes it tackles, but one reason Nebraska is a great Bruce Springsteen album is because of the subjects he discusses: the traps working-class Americans are caught in these days; the tenuous relations between parents and children, between couples, between brothers. At a time when the pop-music of both America and England is dominated by cynical musicians whose success is based in part on the way they avoid dealing with the workaday world we all live in, Springsteen’s new songs make nearly everything else in the Top 10 sound shabby and weak-willed. Nebraska is not music to dance to, or music to escape with; it’s music to confront. It forces you to accept or reject its conclusions.”
—Ken Tucker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1982 Unrated

“Boy, is this one different. And boy, is it good. Springsteen has done something remarkable here. Incredibly, art, rather than commerce, was the determining factor and the simple sound of harmonica and guitar predominates. The record is excellent, in its own quieter way as good as Born to Run was. It’s just different. Springsteen is successful enough to do what he wants to. Fortunately for all of us, he’s smart enough to take us to some fascinating places, if only we have good enough ears to hear him and if we haven’t been so deadened by the current clichés that we’ve lost our ability to hear altogether.”
—Rich Aregood, Philadelphia Daily News, October 8, 1982 Unrated

“Bruce Springsteen’s sixth album sounds as if it were recorded in a prison cell – in solitary, in the dead of night, in the dark. The cold, spare sound complements Springsteen’s elegiac poetry. He dominates the 10-song disc with ballads and seizes the lyrical freedom that the form allows.”
—Frank Rizzo, The Hartford Courant, October 3, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska, – a mature, uncompromising album by one of rock’s few songwriters interested in social concerns – needs to be heard. It’s an important record. Springsteen speaks in an authentic American voice. It is a significant achievement and simply cements Springsteen’s reputation as the most important American rock artist of our time.”
—Jon Ferguson, Intelligencer Journal, September 23, 1982 Unrated

“Often called the last great rock ‘n’ roll star, Springsteen has released what is predominantly a folk album, and it is a brilliant one. Nebraska is folk not only in its musical form, but in its outlook. The up-tempo strength of post-World War II optimism that has underscored even Springsteen’s darkest material has been replaced by a harsh unflinching look at modern America.”
—Divina Infusino, The Milwaukee Journal, September 24, 1982 Unrated

“There was a timeless aura to the simple acoustic guitar and harmonica backing as Springsteen sang about forces that led to isolation and disillusionment that cause people to either lose their will or strike back savagely. As both an artistic document and a catalyst for change, ‘Nebraska’ was the most compelling album of the 1980s.”
—Robert Hilburn, The Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1989 Unrated

Nebraska is a stunning work. True, it is musically quite raw. But it is also one of the most intense and dramatic works put onto vinyl in recent memory.”
—Wade Fredericks, Big Eye Magazine, November, 1982 Unrated

“There’s something re-assuring, yet unsettling about these home-grown tales of ordinary folk, rendered in a voice somehow more ancient than rock ‘n’ roll. Recorded on a Tascam 4-track cassette recorder in his bedroom, Nebraska is a chilling, compelling portrait of who we are, and what we yet might be.”
—Record, December 1982 Unrated

“With its jagged edges, its stark emphatically unpolished performance, Nebraska has more of the feeling of a diary or a series of dramatic sketches than a conventional record album. The criticism leveled at Bruce Springsteen – that he is only concerned with the suburban middle class – is put away forever with this record. He is, quite simply, a great American storyteller.”
—John Swenson, Circus, December 31, 1982 Unrated

“The album is almost startling in its simplicity – in contrast to earlier works, which were rather lavishly arranged with amplified rock back-up. It is disturbing, haunting and somehow hopeful. In its many layers and complex textures, Nebraska is a major work of art.”
—John T. McFadden, The Christian Century, December 8, 1982 Unrated

“The album cannot help but recall the acoustic Dylan, but also in terms of sensitivity recalls the best work of American writers like Hank Williams, Randy Newman, the Band’s Robbie Robertson, and not forgetting Springsteen himself. It’s an album which will probably lose Springsteen a lot of his recent fans. That in itself is to be admired, that a man believes in putting his music across in whatever method he feels is most suitable. Nebraska is an album that has strong roots in the past, but takes a timely step forward with every play.”
—Patrick Humphries, Music World (UK), September 21, 1982 Unrated

“Springsteen’s report from Nebraska is fueled by both fear and compassion for those pushed beyond their financial and emotional limits. It’s a personal album that retrieves rock and roll from its recent function as juvenile escapism, and returns it to its place as a forum for assessing the quality of American life. Beyond bravos for Bruce, the question is, who else will stand this tall?”
—Wayne Robins, Newsday, October 3, 1982 Unrated

“It took guts for Springsteen to give us Nebraska. At a time when he had the entire rock world in his hands, he’s put it down to examine it, to scrutinize it, to take it apart piece by piece. On Nebraska, Springsteen recalls the genius of Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and early Dylan to make his statement about America in the ‘80s. It’s a starkly savage statement, but as powerful and poignant as anything he or anyone else has recorded in years. In a word, Nebraska is a masterpiece.”
—Robert Santelli, The Aquarian, September 29-October 6, 1982 Unrated

“That you can’t go home, that there’s a meanness in this world, that boys and girls will always be dreaming of new cars and the mansion on the hill – these Springsteen demonstrates magnificently, in ten folk songs as raw and powerful as a Nebraska blizzard. Perhaps this record will be judged as a curiosity piece, created by a rock singer who should have stayed with what he knew best. Perhaps, though, singers and critics will look back to Nebraska as an influential, even pivotal record. But no matter its place in the music tradition, it will stand as a descriptive piece of those Americans who are on the edge, who face an incomprehensible world changing ever more rapidly.”
—Mark Allister, John Edwards Memorial Foundation Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 70 Unrated

“It should be said that Nebraska is the strangest and darkest record Springsteen has ever made. He continues to fight for integrity as a musician and a human being. This demands courage, great courage.”
—Mats Bråstedt, Expressen (Sweden) September 9, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska is not a private album, even if it may seem that way. It consists of ten new songs, written in the same caliber as we have come to expect from Springsteen, the songwriter. To compare Nebraska with early Dylan or Leonard Cohen gives the wrong impression. Nebraska stands by itself. It has nothing to do with the 60s folk tradition and Greenwich Village. Nebraska is a break in Bruce Springsteen’s musical and literary search, a way to stop and look backwards and ask ‘Where am I coming from and where am I going?’”
—Olle Berggren, Kvällsposten (Sweden), September 9, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska is a breakout record, a return to roots, Springsteen’s gloomy monologue on life and angst. If this record doesn’t touch you, nothing will. Nebraska is the most significant record of Springsteen’s career. It is a record that only a great artist could make. Springsteen has stayed humble and true to himself and his work.”
—Alex Oinonen, Soundi (Finland), October 1982 Unrated

“From the first reaction of disappointment from those who expected a follow-up to The River, or Darkness or Born to Run, will emerge a new respect for Springsteen. With this album, we meet the man himself. This album can never, in any way, be considered a minor work, less important than his previous ones. Conversely, in Italy the phenomenon that is Springsteen could grow even larger, given the fact that melancholy, solitary minstrels have often found fortune here, breaking a few teenage hearts along the way.”
—Francesco Coli, Buscadero (Italy), October 1982 Unrated

“Alone with his guitar, he transforms all of life’s little stories into songs that children can dream to. This is the new voice of America – one with no interest in propaganda. He will not get rich from this record. But when the master of the world decides to risk his title, it is an event.”
—Michel Embareck, Best (France), October 1982 Unrated

If another singer had recorded this album, had taken this risk, I would have thrown him out of town, persona non grata. But this is Springsteen. He is the only one strong enough. The only one who dares. The only one able to give it meaning. The only one who can speak on behalf of the people. And saying that he is the only one, is not hype or a declaration of love. It is just a fact. Springsteen is the only one. His latest album is splendid.”
—Laurent Chalumeau, Rock & Folk (France), October 1982 Unrated

Nebraska is not a minor opus. It is pure beauty. It is energy turning up in a languid way. It is a masterpiece. It is hard to choose one song that is the best: they are ten perfect jewels that talk about a run-down America, that Bruce deeply loves. To listen is to believe.”
Ciao 2001 (Italy), November 21, 1982 Unrated

“In Nebraska, Bruce, maybe perhaps without knowing it, draws the line between pop and rock music. He revisits his own life intimately on this record. He gives us an individual point of view on America – the country viewed by a great artist – maybe the best artist of our time.”
—Fabio Santini, Tutto (Italy), December 1982 Unrated

“Here’s a hardened, embittered man who effectively reflects the sentiments of his lot – the downtrodden, the jobless, the disillusioned — examines human relationship from first-hand experience, and paints stunning street scenes in narratives that scintillate with verbal precision and fume with emotional fire.”
—R.S. Murthi, New Straits Time (Malaysia), December 2, 1982 Unrated

“This review can only hint at the eloquence of the lyrics, which paint whole lives with rich but remarkably economical strokes and which frequently revive the best of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. If that sounds like an overstatement, you probably haven’t heard the album’s title cut.”
—Jeff Burger, Phoenix, December 12, 1982 Unrated


“The Boss is back with a solo album in the true sense of the term, 10 songs played with a sparse guitar and harmonica backing onto a four-track tape machine. Springsteen’s gift for making epic aural stories is turned on its head by the simple backing. If you already like peering through the windscreen of Springsteen’s odyssey through America you’ll probably enjoy this journey. If not, why not take a ride?”
—Mike Gardner, Record Mirror (UK), September 25, 1982 Rating: 4/5

“The whole deal sounds like a return to basics, capturing the rough, natural feel of the songs with no embellishments. Or depending on your view it sounds like a bunch of demos. Whatever, it’s fascinating listening; a new perspective. As ‘The Patrolman’ Joe Roberts says ‘I always done an honest job as honest as I could’. This album has a heart as huge as the great American dream. And it’s pumping…”
—Johnny Waller, Sounds (UK), September 25, 1982 Rating: 4/5

Nebraska is both the logical and undreamed of end to Springsteen’s increasing formalism. Born in Darkness on the Edge of Town, baptized in The River, Springsteen’s latter-day rock and roll has turned his once wild flights of imagery into plainsong and replaced epics with vignettes. It’s as if Fellini had decided to imitate John Ford: all the stagy, gilded E Streets of his half-imaginary cities are planed down into one flat, dusty road. Nebraska is the first time I’ve been convinced that all this authenticity, this economy, this hard-guy tradition and rigid classicism were worth it.”
—Ariel Swartley, The Boston Phoenix, October 5, 1982 Unrated

“This album doesn’t need a single. Nebraska doesn’t need a barrage of airplay. It doesn’t need a publicity campaign, and it won’t get a Springsteen tour to boost it. It isn’t that kind of album. It is a low-key, personal statement. By releasing Nebraska instead of a live album (which would have been an instant hit), Springsteen has showed that he cares more about the music than the money.”
—Bill Ashton, The Miami Herald, October 3, 1982 Unrated

“The secret to the impact of Nebraska is its intimacy. Rather than try to capture the delicate psychological nuances of these songs in a state-of-the-art recording studio with a band, Springsteen recorded the tunes at home on a four-track cassette. The result is an album that speaks with unflinching immediacy and compassion.”
—Robert Hilburn, The Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1982 Unrated

“On Nebraska the streets turned not only mean, but desolate. The bleak stories unfold one after another – drunken tragedy, unemployment, bad luck, cold factories, final prayers – and late-night drives that lead not to adventure but to nowhere fast. The plea made in ‘Open All Night’ – ‘rock ‘n’ roll, delivery me from nowhere’ – is never answered. Nebraska is a very lonely record.”
—Jim Sullivan, The Boston Globe, January 9, 1983 Unrated

“Just as he always pursues the mythic qualities of America in his songs, Springsteen now seeks to place himself in the tradition of the guitar-strumming storyteller. He succeeds, too, although his whoops and affected ‘folksy’ diction indicate too clearly the depths of his self-consciousness. When Springsteen doesn’t force Big Truths onto his subject matter he’s a more perceptive commentator and ultimately more profound. It’s nice to hear he’s learning that very difficult lesson.”
—Joe Young, Trouser Press, January 1983 Unrated

“When I first heard Nebraska, I was shocked and a little dismayed. Here was an LP I could respect until the day I died – ten tunes, from the working-class point of view, about how it feels to try to stay marginally solvent, nonviolent and more than half-alive in the soul-shriveling age of Reagonomics – but would I ever really warm up to it, play it for enjoyment instead of edification? Springsteen had the courage of his convictions, I decided, and had made an album as bleak and unyielding as next month’s rent. Only one problem: I didn’t want to hear it. Over a time, however, my preconceptions and first impressions metamorphosed into something solid and more sensible, and I finally found a road map that took me to the right places.”
—Paul Nelson, Musician, November 1982 Unrated

“With the exception of Richard Thompson, Bruce Springsteen is the only popular songwriter with such a devastatingly bleak and realistic world view. Unlike Thompson, Springsteen identifies and sympathizes with the plight of the common man. In that sympathy he is linked with Woody Guthrie and it is not surprising that these stark ballads owe much to Guthrie and the deeper American folk tradition. Woody Guthrie once declared, ‘all you can write is what you see.’ Springsteen saw it, heard it and wrote it down. It’s all there.”
—Tom Russell, Relix, Vol. 9, No. 5 Unrated

“I like this album. Its singular gloom seems appropriate to the times and its underlying compassion is restrained and moving, tho [sic] I suspect that most people will find it more admirable than likeable. Those, that is, who don’t dismiss it as an example of one of Springsteen’s most problematic traits – his implacable sincerity – gotten out of hand. It seems to me to be honest and rather brave – not just because it goes against the commercial tide but because with its willfully ungrand nuances of light and dark it risks being seen by most people only as gray.”
—Richard C. Walls, Creem, January 1983 Unrated

Nebraska is a very moral – some might say moralizing – work, and though it is different in sound and style, it is of a piece with Springsteen’s previous albums. There is a preacher lurking somewhere inside The Boss, and here he begins to show his face. Springsteen is brave to have released such an unrelenting vision knowing that radio, mired as it is in inanity, may suddenly decide it has never heard of Bruce Springsteen. The record’s flaws are lessened by its integrity and honesty, and though you may not want to hear what Springsteen has to say here, I suggest you try. He has put himself on the line with this record, and the least we can do is listen.”
—Martha Hume, Daily News (New York), September 26, 1982 Unrated

“Springsteen sat down in the front room of his New Jersey farmhouse and wrote 10 of the most hauntingly depressing and deeply personal songs ever recorded by a major rock artist – all of them are so deeply rooted in the American experience that they are as true to the soul of this nation as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.”
—Charles R. Cross, The Rocket, October 1982 Unrated

Nebraska, which follows the flow of The River, is awkward, unhip, honest, unexpected, vulnerable, earnest. Springsteen plunges along back into the darkness at the edge of town, but this time his slice-of-life documentaries and sketchy personal memories, set to folkish (as opposed to folk) fragments of melody, result not in catharsis but unmitigated pain.”
—Michael Hill, The Village Voice, October 5, 1982 Unrated

“Much of Nebraska suggests that Springsteen has spent time off since his massive world tour holed up at home composing to a stack of gothic Americana videos and a copy of The Executioner’s Song. For the most part, at least, they’ve kept him off the New Jersey streets. I’m intrigued to know where he might go next.”
—Chris Bohn, New Musical Express, September 25, 1982 Unrated

“Springsteen, in his ghostly new album, Nebraska is after the soul in the music. That great sprawling, brawling band Springsteen has backing him up isn’t used here; he’s forcing his fans to listen, not dance. Nebraska is Springsteen’s coming-of-age. It’s something else as well – a great album. The cover art in Nebraska, an empty country road in winter, is bleak. The music’s not. It’s concentrated.”
—Peter Goddard, Toronto Star, September 18, 1982 Unrated

“Springsteen has taken up Kerouac’s legacy, writing songs from the heart of a naked America. The Boss travels down lonesome roads and comes away with his impressions of life, the human side of the story that he intimately details; the pregnant, unwed girlfriend; the search for a promised land by people caught in smalltown USA, hoping tomorrow will bring a way out of the obscurity of seemingly going nowhere. His new LP on Columbia Records, Nebraska is a disturbing, yet compelling piece of music.”
—Neil E. Callahan, The Herald, October 1, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska is a stark, brooding, and frequently ominous album, shot full of pain and loss. All Bruce Springsteen’s albums have been ‘personal,’ especially compared to the escapist entertainment that passes for rock and roll on album oriented radio and at the top of the best-seller charts these days. But this is his most personal record, and his most disturbing.”
—Robert Palmer, The New York Times, September 26, 1982 Unrated

“There’s more to the album than just artistic integrity – it’s got a dark resonance and power that indicate a viable new maturity and mastery in Springsteen. It may have somewhat subdued entertainment value, but Nebraska, in its own context, is an artistic statement of unflinching sincerity, substantial depth and, for those listeners who are willing to stop dancing and devote some unprejudiced attention to it, rare value.”
—Gary Lippman, The Rutgers Daily Telegraph, September 23, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska stands out in the extent to which, with few exceptions, a steady hollowness permeates the solo and acoustic musical performance, while the lyrics present a nearly relentless portrayal of deep desperation and despair.”
—Samuel J. Levine, Widener Law Journal, Vol. 14 Unrated

“Bruce Springsteen has finally arrived where all the critics wanted to prematurely put the rock poet after his debut in 1973: On a pedestal next to Bob Dylan as an ultimate singer/songwriter. All he needed to do to achieve this was a 4-track cassette recorder, a sparse studio, and – by necessity – a lot of experience in the rough business of rock and roll.”
—Jurgen Kalwa, Playboy (Germany), December 1982 Unrated


“Is there anyone stumbling into the street screaming: ‘I have seen the future of American folk music and it’s Bruce Springsteen?’ Not after listening to the Boss’s latest tepid sauce. The album is, intentionally, a bleak downer, a disturbing statement, a stark overview of the Union As We Know It Today. It doesn’t help that Springsteen sounds like he had to drag himself through the songs; in fact, Nebraska may be the most undynamic album of 1982. One applauds Springsteen’s commitment, but questions its ponderous and portentous execution.”
—Richard Harrington, The Washington Post, October 3 1982 Unrated

“Bruce Springsteen’s new LP is called Nebraska but it might well have been labeled Songs for the New Depression, folk music to strum around the camp fire when the bottom’s fallen out of the economy and we’re all reduced to making our own entertainment.”
—John Griffin, The Gazette (Canada), September 24, 1982 Unrated

Nebraska just brings to us in purer form the dullness that’s been creeping into Springsteen’s writing. This is all the Voice of the Little Guy stuff, chapter 20 of this never-ending version of a John Steinbeck novel. Oh sure, Nebraska is respectable in its bleakness, an Important (if blank) Statement from A (seemingly dead-ended) Major Artist. I recommend it only for those who like to ponder the hopelessness of everything while drinking themselves into a lone stupor. Preferably in a trailer home in Idaho.”
—Dennis Harvey, Boston Rock #33 Unrated

“I’m afraid Nebraska inspires cynicism. It sounds like it was written for rock critics rather than people. I’m not suggesting a sellout; in a lot of ways, a release like this is a very gutsy career move, and I don’t doubt that the ten songs on it are as sincerely, deeply felt as anything Springsteen has ever done. In some ways actually, it’s weirdly appropriate that he should mutate, however briefly, into a latter-day Woody Guthrie. Things are pretty depressing out there, and somebody’s got to do it, I suppose. It’s just that most of Nebraska is, well, boring.”
—Steve Simels, Stereo Review, December 1982 Unrated

“To have made Nebraska relevant, Springsteen would have had to start living in 1982 and seeing what’s happening now, not what’s happening in his fevered dreams of cars and girls. At present he really does seem to have no particular place to go and whether he can shake free of his own self imposed limitations will decide whether he can remain one of the few artists capable of making this particular writer a more interested party.”
—Paolo Hewitt, Melody Maker, September 25, 1982 Unrated

Song by song


“The title track is an audacious scary beginning. Singing in a voice borrowed from Guthrie and early Bob Dylan, he takes the part of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather. The music is gentle and soothing, but this is no romanticized outlaw tale a la Guthrie’s ‘Pretty Boy Floyd.’ The casual coldbloodedness, the singers’ willingness to undertake the role and the music’s pastoral calm make Starkweather all the more horrific.”
—Steve Pond, Rolling Stone, October 28, 1982

“The title cut, is a Dylanesque (as in very early Dylan) variant of the Charles Starkweather story, a ballad of the common man as a psychopath. At which point you either moan and leave the room or become intrigued.”
—Richard C. Walls, Creem, January 1983

“…the way in which he turns the classy punchline explanation of his actions – ‘Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in the world’ – is so neatly and simply executed that I’m stunned by the man’s craft.”
—Chris Bohn, New Musical Express, September 25, 1982

“Performed in a distinctively folk style, is about the kind of person who is often the subject of folk songs. But in the song there is no counseling of acceptance, as the Carter Family or Jimmie Rodgers encouraged, nor transcendence of the situation, as Guthrie would have wanted. There is only a void: a meanness in the world, and in such a man as Starkweather. It is in this seldom-explored void that Springsteen often stakes his territory.”
—Mark Allister, John Edwards Memorial Foundation Quarterly, Vol. XIX, No. 70

“The opener and title track is the most desperate song. The music sounds familiar, it’s easy to connect to the Springsteen version of ‘This Land is Your Land,’ slow and dark. The slaughterous lyrics could have been written by Warren Zevon.”
—”Blue” Bottazzi, Il Mucchio Selvaggio (Italy), November 1982


“…instead of the rock ‘n’ rolling histrionics one might expect from Springsteen in full flow, the song is a simple acoustic work which benefits from its simplicity.”
—Patrick Humphries, Music World (UK), September 21, 1982

“…one of the best tracks on the LP, describes the magnetic power of the casino saturated seaside resort and how the temptation to go for broke there is irresistible – and tragic – for some people.”
—Robert Santelli, The Aquarian, September 29-October 6, 1982

“…cut straight from the chord progressions of ‘The River.’ It’s the same kind of sad story, about a smalltime loser in AC, who turns to doing favors for the mob because he’s ‘got debts no honest man can pay.’ Overdubbed vocals wail behind Springsteen’s desperate voice while his harmonica sears. It’s a killer of a song.”
—Neil E. Callahan, The Herald, October 1, 1982

“The song that strikes the most on the first listen. The composition is more in line with Bruce’s past songwriting. Despite the bare arrangement, it transmits energy and the chorus is chilling.”
—Francesco Coli, Buscadero (Italy), October 1982

“…tries to speed things up a bit. A tale of luck and losers in the gambling mecca a couple of hours’ drive from Springsteen’s hometown of Asbury Park, N.J., it is too close to stronger past efforts to come off as anything but a semi-convincing cliché.”
—Bill Ashton, The Miami Herald, October 3, 1982


“Springsteen’s lyrics are exercises in economy. Not a word is wasted and he has developed the knack for choosing the modest adjective that sketches in the small details that give a song life. A lovely song about a family living in the shadow of a great opulence they will never realize, is a case in point.”
—Jon Ferguson, Intelligencer Journal, September 23, 1982

“Springsteen’s voice is fairly tortured on most of the album, but it is especially so on the tender ‘Mansion on the Hill,’ which stands out as one of the most oddly beautiful performances he has put on vinyl. The song is also a showcase for his fine guitar playing, a talent often lost in the wall of sound created by the E Streeters.”
—Bill Ashton, The Miami Herald, October 3, 1982

“….one of the most affecting tunes, brings a political slant to the old Hank Williams rich-versus-poor imagery. As children of struggling factory workers look up daily at the luxury and ease of the owner’s house, you sense a slowly building tension and a possible eventual explosion.”
—Robert Hilburn, The Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1982

“On the surface, the song is the standard story of the poor who are forever locked out of the good life symbolized by the mansion – a kind of song quite common in country music. But on another level, the intense longing expressed by the narrator could be the longing for unattainable salvation. The desire Springsteen conveys is almost tangible, and so is his resignation to the fact that the mansion will never be his.”
—Martha Hume, Daily News (New York), September 26, 1982

“…is more relaxed, almost dreamlike. After the houses of glory on ‘Born to Run’ and the houses of pain in ‘Factory,’ here we turn to a house that becomes the ideal place in which to reconnect with the past.”
—Francesco Coli, Buscadero (Italy), October 1982


“…moves with the manic raucousness we’d expect from an entire band, but it’s just one guy (and practically one chord), and you hear the bare bones and solitariness. Listening to all that horsepower trying to fight its way out of a single voice and instrument is like listening to Johnny rattling the bars of his cell – you believe him when he says he’d rather die than serve the 99 years.”
—Ariel Swartley, The Boston Phoenix, October 5, 1982

“…a song about a man laid off when the Mahwah Ford plant closes, embodies the cycle of oppression, desperation and violence that chillingly permeates the album.”
—John T. McFadden, The Christian Century, December 8, 1982

“The album is a dark reflection of life in Reagan’s America at the start of a new decade, lightweight as a song like ‘Johnny 99’ may sound initially, its theme is unemployment. The idealism and aspirations from earlier albums are still there, but they lie by the side of the highway, in the place where the headlamps don’t reach.”
—Patrick Humphries, Music World (UK), September 21, 1982


“…a dramatic monologue in the tradition of ‘Racing in the Streets,’ may be the best ballad Springsteen’s ever written.”
—Ariel Swartley, The Boston Phoenix, October 5, 1982

“…a simple stated tale about personal bonds versus written laws that unfolds slowly and gracefully on acoustic guitar bolstered by a faint layer of harmonica; the moving chorus is transformed from boast to lament as the drama proceeds.”
—Michael Hill, The Village Voice, October 5, 1982

“A moving story told by a guy named Joe Roberts who is a highway patrolman. This is the high point of Nebraska, a story colored with the similar tones of ‘Point Blank.’”
—Francesco Coli, Buscadero (Italy), October 1982


“The strings of his guitar sound muffled, and as twangy as rubber bands. He’s using only two or three anyway, and you can hear the picks scraping against them. The simplest technology – an echo, a sudden boost of volume – has huge effects. No other song ever seems to have sung of a highway so lost or of a speed more absolute.”
—Ariel Swartley, The Boston Phoenix, October 5, 1982

“Springsteen summons up Presley’s ghost. Near the end of the song, Springsteen’s guitar drops away and he suddenly lets out with a few high-pitched whoops of triumph, screaming into the darkness just to hear the sound of his own voice. It’s a great, primitive rock ‘n’ roll moment in which Springsteen connects his music back to old blues moans, hillbilly yodels and Elvis Presley’s earliest singing style.”
—Ken Tucker, The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 3, 1982

“The sound of the track is fuzzy and hazy – it has the static you might hear on the car radio on a desolate stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike on a rainy night. It tells no story, but creates an indelible mood of a loser, who has done something and is on the road to nowhere. The ghost howl on which the song fades sounds infused with the doomed spirit of 1930s blues singer Robert Johnson, tormented by ‘Hellhounds on my Trail.’”
—Wayne Robins, Newsday, October 3, 1982


“…a simultaneously angry and touching rendering of the mixture of loyalty, pride and shame felt by the singer when his ‘old man’ buys one more in a succession of other people’s cast off vehicles. In Nebraska Springsteen has come to terms with the fact that mature love involves obligation and responsibility.”
—John T. McFadden, The Christian Century, December 8, 1982

“…a gentle nostalgia about growing up on the lower end of the middle class, with keyboard punctuation that resembles the sound of a child’s xylophone set and a nursery-rhyme chorus couplet.”
—Michael Hill, The Village Voice, October 5, 1982


“‘Used Cars’ and ‘Open All Night’ are more typical of earlier Springsteen songs because characters in both tunes still cling to their dreams. As a result, both songs detract somewhat from the urgency of the rest of Nebraska.
—Robert Hilburn, The Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1982

“…takes a chugging Chuck Berry rhythm and melody and sets a Chuck Berry protagonist and his automobile down on the Jersey Turnpike, where the ‘sun’s just a red ball risin’ over them refinery towers’ and the car radio is ‘jammed up with gospel stations, lost souls callin’ long distance salvation.’”
—Robert Palmer, The New York Times, September 26, 1982


“A devastating capper to Springsteen’s cycle of ‘father’ songs. ‘My Father’s House’ may be the only cut on side two that can stand up to the string of songs that open the record.”
—Steve Pond, Rolling Stone, October 28, 1982

“…a sombre tale of that foreign country called the past, which can never be revisited: a dark and empty house ‘across the dark highway where our sins lie unatone.’ That sort of line is another bead on the rosary of Springsteen’s Catholicism.”
—Patrick Humphries, Music World (UK), September 21, 1982


“…adds the final brush strokes, by turns blackly humorous and haunting. One man stands alongside a highway, poking a dead dog as if to revive it; another heads down to the river to wed. The bride never shows, the groom stands waiting, the river flows on, and people, Bruce sings with faintly befuddled respect, still find their reasons to believe. Naive, simple and telling, it is the caption beneath Bruce Springsteen’s abrasive, clouded and ultimately glorious portrait of America.”
—Steve Pond, Rolling Stone, October 28, 1982

“A ‘bright spot’ in this quagmire is the album’s concluding song, which is actually four bad luck vignettes in one, each with the message ‘still at the end of every hard luck day people find some reason to believe.’ Again, some may gag at the hoary sentiment, but in the context of the album it’s affecting – a reminder of human resiliency presented in a simple, unpretentious way.”
—Richard C. Walls, Creem, January 1983

“The final song does provide what its title implies: a hint of hope. It catalogs various tragedies in life – death, abandonment, decay – and concludes that no matter what befalls us, we still find some – you guessed it – reason to believe. The song is not an affirmation, however, but a rather resigned observation that without hope, there is no life and it brings Nebraska to a sobering end.”
—Martha Hume, Daily News (New York), September 26, 1982

“The song ‘Reason to Believe’ seems to push aside all the ugliness, all the poverty and misfortune of people, all the insanity that’s engulfed us, and sets forth a glimmer of hope that things will get better. Without such hope, there would be no use in going on. Without such hope Nebraska would never have needed to be made in the first place.”
—Robert Santelli, The Aquarian, September 29-October 6, 1982


This work would not have been possible without the advice and support of many people. First and foremost, special thanks to Lauren Waxman Harrison (Brooklyn, NY) who read, analyzed, interpreted, and condensed every Nebraska review in The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection. The result was a faithful rendering of the original intent of authors from 11 countries. Thanks, too, to each of the following for undertaking the first systematic translation of Nebraska reviews into English: Luca Lanini (Rome, Italy), Leticia Lozano (Los Angeles, CA), Heikki Nylund (Kuopio, Finland), Peter Schöfböck (Vienna, Austria), Henrik Selin (Somerville, MA), Sébastien M. Spatola (Pertuis, France), and Maria Tillema (Amsterdam, The Netherlands). Anyone who has ever dealt with non-English idioms know the difficulty of trying to accurately render those concepts into English, and these folks took on the challenge like champs.