Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen

Tunnel of Love
by Bruce Springsteen

Tunnel of Love by Bruce SpringsteenFollowing the multi-year, top of the pop world success of the studio album Born In the USA and the live compilation Live / 1975-85, Bruce Springsteen surprised a lot of listeners with the 1987 follow-up Tunnel of Love. This was Springsteen’s eighth studio album overall by Bruce Springsteen and the third (non-sequentially) to not feature his backing E Street Band, although several members did make cameos throughout this album and drummer Max Weinberg did play on most of the tracks. Thematically, the album turns inward especially when dealing the subject of relationships and love gone wrong, as it was written around the time that Springsteen’s first marriage was deteriorating. However, what makes this theme unique to this album is Springsteen’s ability to honesty examine both sides of the romantic relationship, and in the process implicate himself for his own infidelities.

The decision to follow-up a highly produced, blockbuster hit with something more subdued was a repeat of what Springsteen did earlier in the decade when he followed The River in 1980 with Nebraska in 1982. However, Tunnel of Love is not nearly as sparse as co-producers Jon Landau and Chuck Plotkin worked with Springsteen and using some synthesized soundscapes, electronic drums, backing vocalists, along with some E Street musicians, albeit in a a very subtle and understated way throughout.

Although the album topped the charts after its release and contained three Top 20 hits, it was not the album that the legions of crossover pop fans expected from Springsteen. Ultimately, Tunnel of Love would sell less than a third of the copies as Born In the USA.
 


Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen
Released: October 9, 1987 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Landau, & Chuck Plotkin
Recorded: January – July 1987
Side One Side Two
Ain’t Got You
Tougher Than the Rest
All That Heaven Will Allow
Spare Parts
Cautious Man
Walk Like a Man
Tunnel of Love
Two Faces
Brilliant Disguise
One Step Up
When You’re Alone
Valentine’s Day
Primary Musicians
Bruce Sprinsteen – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Harmonica
Danny Federici – Organ
Max Weinberg – Drums & Percussion

The album starts off a Capella with “Ain’t Got You”, which breaks into a rockabilly beat with deadened acoustic strings and laid back harmonica. This short diddy speaks to the hollowness of popular success when it can’t be shared with the one you love. “Tougher Than the Rest” follows with a great contrast to the opener, using electronic drums, synths, and heavily-reverbed vocals. The diversity of the material is further highlighted by “All That Heaven Will Allow”, an upbeat acoustic with a some surprising fine bass guitar by Springsteen. With a great melody and catchy hook make this an underrated classic and the best song on the first side of the album.

“Spare Parts” is almost “Outlaw Country” and therefore lacks much of the subtlety that is present on the much of the rest of the album. It even contains some explicitly “dirty” lyrics with,

Bobby says he’ll pull out, Bobby stays in / Janey had a baby, wasn’t any sin…”

“Cautious Man” is the closest nod back to the style the Nebraska album, as a sparse and haunting acoustic folk song, with the side-closing “Walk Like a Man” returns to childhood, with relative stories above a cool, laid back synth arrangement and strumming acoustic. Lyrically, it appears to be Springsteen speaking directly to his father. While the first side of the album is interesting, the second side is much more sonically enjoyable.

“Brilliant Disguise” is the best song on the album, with a great chord structure and melody throughout. This song kind of sums up the underlying theme of the entire album, deep thoughts and reflections about simple moments lone within the frenzied bubble of great fame and commercial success. Musically, the song contains some nice piano by Roy Bittan, accenting the subtle acoustic folk strumming and simple but elegant vocals.

The title track “Tunnel of Love” starts weirdly with an almost-dance beat before giving way to another calm synth riff that acts as canvas for descriptive, slightly poetic, and highly allegorical lyrics. It is about as pure a pop song as Springsteen even wrote and is highlighted by some excellent lead guitar by Nils Lofgren, who later replicates Springsteen’s howling towards the end. “Two Faces” is an adequate but typical pop song with a nice organ lead towards the end by Danny Federici, while “When You’re Alone” features some backing vocals by Springsteen’s saxophone player from the E Street Band, Clarence Clemons.

“One Step Up” is another gem on the second side with a good guitar riff and great vocal hook. This song is very understated with the barest of arrangement, but still had enough radio appeal to make it a pop hit. The closing song “Valentine’s Day” sums up the album nicely as a melancholy and confessional number, which compares heartbreak and fear of loss with death itself,

“…they say that if die in your dreams, you die in your bed / but honey, last night I dreamed my eyes rolled back in my head…”

In one way, Tunnel of Love marked a return to the simple folk/Americana form that predated the phenomenal success of Born In the U.S.A.. In a contrasting other way, it also marked a severing point from the most musically lucrative years for Springsteen. Although he did tour in 1988 with the E Street Band to promote this album, he would not make another studio album with his backing band until 2002’s The Rising.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

Buy Nebraska

Nebraska by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s 1982 solo album Nebraska was an original “demo” that found unexpected life as a major label recording by a major label artist. The tracks for this sparsely-recorded album were recorded on a cassette 4-track recorder in Springsteen’s home as demos intended to be recorded with the E Street Band. The band did start recording the full-production versions of the songs in the studio but Springsteen and his engineers later decided that the “haunting folk” essence of the original demos best suited the dark themes of the compositions. So the original demos themselves were used on the album Nebraska. This was not an easy task, as the original demos were not recorded at optimal volume or with optimal noise reduction, and it was extremely difficult to transfer such recordings to vinyl, But with the help of newer mastering technologies, the finished product found the right balance of raw legitimacy and sonic competency that would ultimately become one of Springsteen’s highest regarded efforts.

According to Springsteen, he wanted to approach his next album differently by having many songs written and arranged previously, rather than working the writing process out in the studio;

I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ’em, then I’ll teach ’em to the band…”

During these same demo sessions, Springsteen recorded tracks that would be held over for his 1984 blockbuster Born In the U.S.A., including the title track, “Downbound Train”, and “Working On the Highway”. Fans have long speculated whether Springsteen’s full-band recording of the album (nicknamed “Electric Nebraska”) will ever surface, as these recordings have been held in tight confinement for 30 years.

 


Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Released: September 30, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: at Springsteen’s Colts Neck, NJ bedroom, January 3, 1982
Side One Side Two
Nebraska
Atlantic City
Mansion On the Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper
Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe
Musician
Bruce Springsteen – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Mandolin, Organ, Percussion

 

Some of the songs were inspired by left-wing historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States. The influence could be heard in “Mansion On the Hill”, a metaphor for the life of the wealthy that is unattainable by the working class who are locked out by the “hardened steel gates”, and “Johnny 99”, the story of a man who lost his job and then went crazy with a gun. This latter song with a nice boogie guitar has lyrics which explain the desperation of a man with debts no honest man could pay.

Nebraska got its title from a 1950s killing spree in and around Lincoln, Nebraska, by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The opening title song contains dark lyrics, telling a story from the point of view of a murderer in a matter of fact way – not an emotional plea but simply a statement of facts. This makes the song all the more stark, bleak, and chilling in that we are always searching for reasons why people do bad things, but in this case, the criminal says there is just meanness in this world. The writing style for this track in particular was influenced by Flannery O’Connor, who Springsteen had been recently reading.

“Atlantic City” is the best track on this album (as well as its most popular). It tells the story of a young couple relocating because the young man grew tired of trying unsuccessfully to make an honest living and is taking a job with the mob in Atlantic City. It was written right around the time when the city was looking towards big-time gaming to save the city in the early eighties. Springsteen incorporated some real-life figures into this fictional song, the “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981.
 

 
“Highway Patrolman” continues the themes of crimes and conscience in the story of brothers – one a lawman, one a criminal. The story is once again told in the first person with the lawman constantly struggling to keep his brother out of trouble and in the end letting him escape after he kills a man in a barroom fight. Musically and melodically, this is one of the most entertaining compositions on the album.

I’ve found that the songs “State Trooper” and “Open All Night”, yet more stories of desperation are linked in a way. “State Trooper” contains a guitar pattern which emulates the recurring sound of the road. The protagonist doesn’t have a license or registration, but he is driving late at night on a deserted highway just saying a prayer that his problems don’t get bigger by being stopped by a cop. “Open All Night” contains a similar beat, with the guitar a little more jangly in the fashion of of old time rock and roll. With nearly the same scenario of a guy driving alone through Jersey, but with more optimistic anticipation of seeing the girl he just recently met. The closing song “Reason To Believe”, finishes the album with a more upbeat note.

Bruce Springsteen would try to recreate the dark simplicity of Nebraska in 1995 when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, album very similar musically and lyrically. However, it was impossible to recreate the happy accident that brought this simple casette demo, recorded in a New Jersey bedroom on a Sunday afternoon in January 1982, to the ears of millions.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.