“Somehow, Nobody Seems to Mention Nebraska’s Sugar Daddy, Columbia Records, in Album Commentary”

To be perfectly honest, I’ve always found Nebraska (1982), Bruce Springsteen’s sixth studio album, to be a little bit overrated. It plays to me like the perfect hipster pick, with its defiant stylistic spareness representing a “stark” [1] deviation from the erstwhile Springsteen playbook of energetic arena rock. 

With few exceptions, none of the tracks really make too much impression on me. The one glaring exception, without question, would be the title track opener. This is a song, though, which certainly digs its emotional teeth into you to the point of wanting to get to the BOTTOM of it, to uncover its meaning, and what it’s all about. Calling it “haunting” would probably be an understatement. 

Anyway, another reason why Nebraska is the perfect hipster stocking stuffer would be that it probably does legitimately qualify as “experimental”: not in any stylistic sense, but, just as has been widely reported, it’s basically a major, commercial rock album consisting solely of demos recorded on a four-track. Its economic trajectory, then, qualifies as a bona fide experiment, hence, in turn, broadening the artistic scope of mainstream rock.

For this, its resident Kris Kringle, Columbia Records, deserves some credit, but doesn’t ever seem to get any, judging by my somewhat cursory glance at the blogosphere. Just to put things in perspective a little bit, Nirvana was signed to Geffen in the 1990 or so and, as we know, released one of the most abrasive rock albums in the history of commercial music. Being this as it may, for their followup, In Utero (1993), the band nonetheless managed to incur resistance from Geffen, which is widely known as one of the most flexible, artist-friendly labels of the ’90s, for, basically, being too abrasive, too “punk.” The vocals weren’t mixed very loudly, on the original master, and “Heart-Shaped Box” was entitled “Heart-Shaped Coffin,” originally. Other than that, it was a remarkably similar brand of music to Nirvana’s original meal ticket, Nevermind (1991), that they were trying to institute.

Let’s now shift to Springsteen, whose The River (1980) was basically like his version of The Wall — a huge, overblown, commercially successful album designed for radio, for high school dances, to be played at baseball games, and whatever else have you. All of these arenas, basically, are unfit for the tracks from Nebraska, which, in a sense, makes you wonder why the latter is considered unilaterally such as success. How is Nebraska ACTUALLY a success? The company which released it, which was originally based in Britain and known as the Columbia Gramophone Company, never sold out, continually held artistic sway over its releases and, at least marginally, held the artists’ interests and creative muses as a priority in their business. Because of Columbia, press denizens and academic seers can masquerade as rebellious and different.


[1] Get ready to read this word about 10 times per online article if you’re Googling this album.