‘Electric Nebraska’: the tale of Bruce Springsteen’s lost album

Bruce Springsteen always found his greatest strength when working with the E Street Band. While the main focus of every classic Springsteen track comes from the song, it takes every band member to turn it into something magical, from the blaring guitars to the screeching sounds of the saxophone. Although he can get some of the most incredible sounds out of the band, one of his finest albums involved him taking it back down to ground zero.

In the wake of the success of Born to Run, Springsteen had already started to become desensitised to the reputation of a rock and roll star. While he had waited his whole life to become a part of one of the biggest bands in the world, the baggage that came up with it wasn’t something he was prepared for, eventually working both the band and himself down to the bone whenever they played.

Instead of the sunny optimism that permeated his magnum opus, Darkness on the Edge of Town featured a far more sombre look at the world, with songs like ‘Badlands’ delivering the harsh truths of working-class life. Even though Springsteen still got the best out of his bandmates, the next album would be something far more raw than he initially anticipated.

When working through his next batch of songs, Springsteen began cutting his demos on acoustic guitar in his apartment. Rather than the hopeful songs of the past few records, the characters that permeated much of what would become Nebraska were downtrodden protagonists who had made the wrong decisions in life.

Once Springsteen brought the tapes into his record company, though, he was persuaded to release the tracks bare without help from the rest of the band. For the first time since forming the group, Nebraska would become the first Springsteen to feature only ‘The Boss’, taking his sound into new directions that were a lot darker than what many had anticipated.

Even though Springsteen was proud of the work he had done independently, there was another version of the classic album that no one got to hear. Instead of the barebones arrangements that have defined songs like the title track, the electrified version of Nebraska with a full band got left on the cutting room floor.

While many fans would argue that the version that we got is perfect the way it is, there are more than a few moments on the album that could have benefited from the rest of the band lending their talents. Considering the heartbreaking story inside a song like ‘My Father’s House’, for instance, having the unbridled energy of Clarence Clemons playing behind it would have made for one of the most stunning emotional moments in the group’s career.

Then again, having Springsteen behind everything also gives a glimpse into the raw nerves that went into making the record. Considering the massive howls on songs like ‘Open All Night’, ‘The Boss’ sounds like he’s at his wit’s ends, playing different characters in a matter of life and death at every turn. While Max Weinberg has attested to the initial sessions sounding amazing, Nebraska captured the sound of Springsteen at his most human.

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