Pitchfork publish regular reviews of what they consider significant albums of the past, and last week it was the turn of Springsteen's Nebraska.
At the time it came out in 1982, I would have been absolutely oblivious to it, but I did buy it not long after I got into Springsteen, around 1987. By that time, the muted initial response it had received had begun to dissipate, and various other artists had started to imitate its ultra-stripped-down approach. To be honest, that became a bit annoying – recording everything acoustically on a cassette player doesn't automatically confer integrity, depth and meaning on an album.
But for Nebraska, it was undoubtedly the right decision. Even though the recordings are so homepsun that at times you can hear Springsteen's chair creaking, the effect isn't to create an intimacy with the listener, but rather, as the article says, to isolate the artist from his subjects, allowing him to observe and report dispassionately.
Songs such as Highway Patrolman and Atlantic City are like short stories (the former was the inspiration for the film The Indian Runner), but in many of the songs here, what's not said is as important as what is. You don't know exactly what it is that the protagonist of Atlantic City has agreed to do, just that he's desperate and willing to try anything.
I like the more obviously personal Used Cars a lot, as well as the yin and yang of State Trooper and Open All Night, with the latter offering one of the album's few glimmers of light. The article highlights the echoey, early rockabilly sound, and they're right – it's far closer to that in spirit than to folk music, for all that it's acoustic.
I go back and listen to it every now and then, and there's no doubt that it's one of Springsteen's most important albums.