Not so much an album as it is a collection of short stories, by which I mean, these songs are all about specific people (you) and places (America, goddamnit).
But I also mean that there is very little happening musically: he goes about almost all of these songs with an acoustic guitar slung over his back and a harmonica slung around his neck like he were Bob Dylan – ‘cept he isn’t Bob, either lyrically and especially not melodically. (Only “Open All Night” has an electric guitar, and that one ain’t much anyway.)
I make it no secret that I dislike Bruce Springsteen; sometimes I wonder if it’s simply because I’m not white enough or American enough to “get it.” And yet, thinking about it, I’ve long felt disconnected from my Chinese culture, and Canada isn’t exactly worlds apart, distance or otherwise. Plus, there are a ton of American albums that I connect all too deeply with. “Atlantic City” – apparently a highlight – reminds me of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” which was a better song (mostly due to the phrasing of the gruff vocals); “Mansion on the Hill” recalls “Nebraska”, but worse; “Highway Patrolman” and “My Father’s House” recall “Mansion”, but longer; etc. There’s exactly two good things about this album: the wailing harmonica of the opener, communicating the sadness of the cover, more so than any of his vocals or lyrics, and “State Trooper,” where he lets loose his inner “Frankie Teardrop” over an acoustic chug that mimics the minimal synth approach of Suicide’s debut (he also yips on “Johnny 99”).
Never before has political despair sounded so fucking boring.