• Conor Malcolm Crockford

    Atlantic City has for me one of Springsteen’s best bridges, the passion and beautiful desperation in his voice never stronger (those glockenspiels too, goddamn). For a guy who was amusingly criticized by Christgau for sounding like he was trying to pass a kidney stone Bruce has a great sense of vocal meter and rhythm, like how he moves through “Turning to gold, but…put on your stockings baby, cuz/the nights getting cold.” as if jumping from one thought to another.

    • With Bruce, it’s like Dylan and Joni Mitchell and a bunch of other singers: their voices are instruments with some uses that suite them well and others that suite them not. I personally think that this album and Born to Run are the absolute perfect uses of Springsteen’s voice, whereas a lot of his other albums from this period do occasionally stray into territory where he’s clearly not as good a fit.

      I’ve also always appreciated that Springsteen is a good sport about his voice. He freely admits that he’s not always great.

      • Son of Griff

        Springsteen took lessons to continually alter his singing style to fit his evolving musical direction. The thing with Springsteen is that these alter egos emerge so gradually that, unlike let’s say Dylan’s or Bowie’s, their transformations often go unnoticed.

        • For sure. When I was first getting into Springsteen, I was surprised that he began as a basically good-times bar rocker and didn’t just appear as this leftist voice-of-the-working-class guy.

      • thesplitsaber

        my personal theory is he simply blew out his voice around the time he was touring for the river. He stopped hitting those really high van morrison-y notes (perfect example at 2:10) after that and moved only to the lower register growl hes been known for.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRvnsj8G7QM

        • That’s possible. There’s a long history of untrained singers straining/ruining their voices.

    • Son of Griff

      The song is also a response to BTR’s “Meeting Across the River”, in which the singer’s contemplation of criminal intent is motivated to bring closure to an argument with his girlfriend, and perhaps to their relationship as well. Here violence is contemplated to provide the means of romantic renewal. In THE RIVER, refusing to sacrifice the gift of freedom for the divine purpose of earthly love results in a cost to the soul and body. NEBRASKA’S theology, on the other hand, posits that fate determines the outcome of a gnostic lottery between good and evil, free will has little to do with determining the outcome, and that faith is simply a compulsion to act. Whatever choice is offered lies in atonement, and how one accepts punishment for sins committed by one’s actions.

      • Shit, man, you should be the one writing these posts. That was beautiful.

        • Son of Griff

          Aww, shucks; Thanks. I think you’re doing a great job of explaining the concepts of these albums. I’m looking forward to see your take on some of the less revered records in the Boss’ catalogue.

          On a side note: While much has been written of the Woody Guthrie influence on Springsteen’s writing, the connection, seems a bit more tenuous here than on some of the later, folkier albums. Guthrie’s songs are generally about human injustice and the struggle for the progressive recognition of a common humanity. The social iniquities represented by “they” on NEBRASKA are not protested against for the purpose of change, but are manifestations of a force rooted in both human and worldly nature. I hear a lot of the melancholic disposition of Hank Williams and the Louvin Brothers reflected in these stark pieces, and a deeper lyrical connection to the ideology of American Roots music that goes beyond what most contemporary critics I suspect were aware of when the album came out.

          • The nonGuthrieness of Springsteen is really important to understanding Born in the USA. Springsteen was never really a protest singer; his guitar would say something like “This Machine Fucking Rocks, Man.” Springsteen’s characters aren’t really pursuing justice the way Guthrie’s are; they want meaning. There’s no real questing in Guthrie’s music the way there is in Springsteen.

            We’ll get to this, but what makes Born in the USA so compelling is the way that almost every aspect of it undercuts every other one. It’s loud, enjoyable, rocking out, despairing, uncertain, and hurt all at once. He’s probably right about all of it.

          • “I’m looking forward to see your take on some of the less revered records in the Boss’ catalogue”

            Takes that will, unfortunately, be kind of run-of-the-mill. It’s been a while since I listened to Human Touch, et al, but my memory is that Bruce is the kind of artist where his worst work is bad because it’s just uninteresting.

          • Son of Griff

            Up until his most recent releases, I’d say that is probably my assessment. I really need to re-listen to the next two coming up before the reviews come up.

          • I like his recent work quite a bit, especially Wrecking Ball. I pretty much have Born in the USA memorized (top 10 album ever for me), so I don’t think I’ll need much revisiting there. But I definitely need to brush up on his ’90s work.

          • Son of Griff

            He’s supposed to be releasing an album (or two) pretty soon.

          • Wait, really? I didn’t know that!

          • Son of Griff

            I think it got delayed with the autobiography and the touring, but this was announced last year. Then again, he may have scrapped it.

          • thesplitsaber

            ‘I hear a lot of the melancholic disposition of Hank Williams and the Louvin Brothers reflected in these stark pieces’

            For me i always hear it as a marriage of johnny cash’s stark very early work with the folk music of son house, seeger, guthrie, leadbelly etc.

  • Miller

    “The one evaluative statement made in the entire album is on “Highway Patrolman,” when the narrator says that a “man [who] turns his back on his family… just ain’t no good,” and even there, we’re not in some The River situation where we’re meant to question a man’s individual urges for freedom at the expense of his family, even though there’s plenty of room for that in Franky’s “no good” ways; it’s a platitude his law-enforcement brother quotes to explain his choice to let Franky escape.”

    I read it as a statement on Franky himself too — he’s long since turned his back on his family in every way but the expectation of their indulgence. And he gets it in one final form, where the narrator can wash his hands while still being his brother’s keeper, maybe Adam raised a Seth here.

    • Yeah, Franky’s definitely under the umbrella of that statement, but I also think it’s significant that the song foregrounds the narrator’s decision to let him go, not Franky’s actions. It’s a natural effect of the song’s POV, sure, but it also shows, as consequence of that POV, remarkable charity toward Franky that we may not feel if the events had been framed differently.