Tunnel of Love – Bruce Springsteen in the Reflecting Pool

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love – 1987

“Ain’t Got You”. Man. If Bruce was confessional here and there on the last record, this song is the real deal. I don’t know who it is he ain’t got, but he’s out there telling us all he’s fucking rich, he’s made a fortune but he still aches for the love that has eluded him.
Wow, Bruce. Just…wow.

Tunnel of Love is Bruce’s adult record. It’s where he really grew up and addressed and merged the dour sadness of, say, Nebraska and parts of The River, with a bigger production sound. If his producers had an eye on another 12 million seller, it sure doesn’t sound like Bruce was interested in giving it to them. This is a big, anthemic, almost country album. (I see the bolo on the cover, Boss) It’s heartland extreme.

And it works some of the time. It’s a cold record. A post breakup record by a man looking inside and trying to figure out how to be whole. It’s Nebraska on steroids, since he only used the band here and there. This is a man pushing 40 who has become some of the characters he’s written about.

It’s hard for me to love Tunnel of Love, because it’s not really my kind of record, it still feels like it’s written by and for adults, even though I’m older than Bruce was when he made it. But, I also love it because it brings me back to my first months in Los Angeles and it’s like an orphan.

Some songs, like the first and the crackling “Spare Parts”, which is a reexamining of the same characters we’ve heard before, the single mother who was left by an immature sperm donor to fend for herself. But, like I said, it crackles. And the heroine of the song, Janey, might lament her lot in life and try to give up her kid, but she looks at him and finds her hope and plunges on. I have hope for her.
The title track, despite it’s deeply ploddy 80’s sound, contains not just the most emotionally requesting lyrics since, I dunno, “I Wanna Marry You”, but also the best guitar solo on a Springsteen song in a while.
Also, “Two Faces”, which contains the same tone of and could be a companion piece to “I’m On Fire”, but is a decidedly more honest song.

Other songs, like “Cautious Man” has its roots in Nebraska and, sadly, would be the kind of maudlin storytelling that Bruce would revisit throughout the 90s. And I know you feel guilty and like you’re in the wrong relationship, Bruce, but, jeez, leave it off the MOR crap like “Walk Like a Man”, with it’s obnoxious heavy synths that have me reaching for the ff button…..

The album is good but not great. On first glance it appears to be a sad capstone to the era of Bruce phase 1. But, since he basically jettisoned the E Street Band, using them as special guests or session men here, this is really the beginning of Bruce Phase 2.

It’s gonna be a long time in the wilderness.

Grade: B-
ASide: Ain’t Got You, Tunnel of Love
BlindSide: Tougher than the Rest, Spare Parts, Two Faces,
DownSide: Cautious Man, Walk Like a Man, When You’re Alone You’re Alone

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