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2023/4 Albums Thing 336 - Bruce Springsteen “Tunnel Of Love”

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A number of friends who are also big Bruce Springsteen fans will tell you this is the one that got them hooked and it’s his best album. I wouldn’t go that far but it’s definitely an album I’ve grown to appreciate more over the years. 

Springsteen had got married in 1985 to actress Julianne Phillips and “Tunnel Of Love” lays bare much of his unhappiness during their 3 years together. It’s easy to tag this as his breakup album, but it’s not that. 

We begin almost where “Nebraska” left off. “Ain’t Got You” sounds what I would imagine “Nebraska” might have sounded like had it been recorded professionally. It sees Springsteen delivering vocals and all instruments (as he also does on “Cautious Man”, “Tunnel Of Love” and “Valentine’s Day”), guitar, mandolin, bass, keyboards, harmonica, percussion and programming the drum machine on a song about a man who’s “got all the riches baby any man ever knew” but he doesn’t have THE girl. Whether that is the girl he really desires or a comment on his relationship with his wife is for the listener to choose an answer.

And choices is what much of “Tunnel Of Love” is concerned with, choices and the consequences of those actions. In the sublime “Tougher Than The Rest” Springsteen is asking the girl to choose him, much the same theme as “All That Heaven Will Allow” but that is much more light hearted in tone (“Say hey there mister bouncer now all I wanna do is dance, But I swear I left my wallet back home in my working pants”). 

“Spare Parts” deals with the consequences for Bobby after “Bobby said he’d pull out but Bobby stayed in” it’s also one of the albums darker songs alongside “Cautious Man” (which would have sat perfectly on “Nebraska”), “Two Faces” and the frankly wonderful “Brilliant Disguise”, one of Springsteen’s finest songs. “Walk Like A Man” once more looks at a sons relationship with his father, following on from “Adam Raised A Cain” and “Independence Day” on previous albums, as the son looks back on his wedding day.

As we progress through the record a sense of optimism and change reveals itself.  “One Step Up” is essentially about straying but also starting over again. Side two begins with title song “Tunnel Of Love” which again looks at new starts even though you know the pitfalls that could be involved you still throw yourself in wholeheartedly. It’s one of my favourite Springsteen songs and one I’ve only ever heard him play on this albums tour (two of only three times I’ve set foot in that stadium in B6…the trials we put ourself to for this guy!). “One Step” thematically precedes the title track but appears toward the end of side two. It lays out a relationship falling apart and one of the protagonists starting again.

As the follow up to “Born In The USA” this is not at all what Columbia might have been expecting. His previous album had been a chart topping, single packed hit machine that sold millions globally. “Tunnel Of Love” is a much, much “smaller” record, the feelings and emotions are held close and are more personal than the political chest thumping of “Born In The USA”. Critics praised the songs but at times criticised the musical settings. Although “Tunnel Of Love” is a full band album the full band aren’t on it. All the members of the E Street Band play on the album (except Steve van Zandt who had left in 1984) but the band don’t all play on all the songs. They wouldn’t play together on a Springsteen album again until “The Rising”, which was advertised as the first album featuring the E Street Band since “Born To Run”.

“Tunnel Of Love” might sound a bit ’80’s in places but it features some truly wonderful songs. As I said earlier, I’m not sure it’s his best but it’s right up there with them.

Tunnel Of Love - https://youtu.be/M4K7XZGeHTE?si=Q7R1v4-mfaOezCXD

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