The atmospheric sound of this classic album is made up of only voice, guitar and harmonica. The stories are told in compelling imagery over stately melodies. Although the sentiment is deeply melancholic, the promise of redemption is never entirely absent. Places like Lincoln, Atlantic City, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Johnstown, Wyoming and Linden Town provide the setting for these tales of nostalgia, trouble and heartbreak.
If you've seen the 1973 movie Badlands (Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen) you'll have a more profound understanding of the title track. Both it and Mansion on the Hill are slow and mournful whilst Atlantic City has a lilting beat and Johnny 99 is edgy with its nervous guitar riffs that also infuse State Trooper, a song that thematically relates to Highway Patrolman.
Springsteen's characteristic car and road imagery surfaces in Used Cars with its poignant childhood recollections as well as in Open All Night, an uptempo rock song, the only one on the album. The line "radios jammed up with gospel stations, lost souls callin' lost distance salvation" reminds me of Far Away Eyes by the Stones, a tongue-in-cheek country song on Some Girls. For some reason, it also makes me think of Hank Williams.
Guilt, remorse and the yearning for redemption are expressed in vivid oneiric imagery on the haunting track My Father's House. Reason to Believe concludes this outstanding album on an uplifting note with the observation that people ultimately do find meaning. It echoes a similar hope earlier expressed in Atlantic City, the notion that perhaps everything that dies someday comes back. Its simplicity, profundity and power make Nebraska a masterpiece and a highly influential work.