Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Tunnel of Love" by Bruce Springsteen (1987)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Key Tracks:
Ain't Got You
is a great throwback salute to early rock and roll.  Cautious Man is Springsteen doing what he does best - an examination of how heavy emptiness can be.  Brilliant Disguise is just a great song.  Go check it out.  The continuation of its theme on One Step Up is almost as good.

Obvious Filler and Swings-and-Misses:
No Filler.  Walk Like a Man, Tunnel of Love and Valentine's Day all aspire to be much more than they are.  Sadly, they also seem to believe they've reached those aspirations.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately:
Recommended Listening (3/4 stars)

"God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of," Springsteen croons on Brilliant Disguise.  That sentiment pretty much sums up all of "Tunnel of Love."  After the monumental success of "Born in the U.S.A.," The Boss found himself in the thin air of pop-superstardom among the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince.  He didn't seem to really know what to do with that or where to go next.  As a result, on "Tunnel of Love," Bruce Springsteen sounds like a willful caricature of himself.

It's almost like there's a checklist.  Excessive whooping?  Check, first song in.  Faked ruralism?  Check, over-reaching twang second song in and a pic of The Boss in a pair of bibbed overalls with one strap undone on the record sleeve.  The line specifically addressing you as "Mister" and/or "Brother"?  Check.  Three of 'em.  Americana?  Oh yeah, you know there's Americana.  The self-parody runs so deep that songs like Spare Parts sound as if they're chasing John Cougar Mellencamp.  Ironic, since Mellencamp built his career off blatently chasing Springsteen.

Each Boss era - except for "Born in the U.S.A." - is dutifully represented here like a Springsteen buffet line (presumably so you can take what you want and move on).  One Step Up and Valentine's Day are seventies-era, I've-got-street-cred Bruce.  Cautious Man is unmistakably "Nebraska."  All That Heaven Will Allow sounds like it was left behind on the ship when all the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" songs left in the lifeboat.  And the whole LP feels like a pared down swing at the scope and thematic elements of "The River."

So, is it an album?  No.  Go listen to it and try to argue that it is.  Due to the insular nature of most of his songs, even the best Springsteen outings tend to jump wildly from one song to the next.  Here, it's all over the place with everything from rockabilly to folk songs to pandering eighties radio-bait.  The B-side does settle into organ pop love songs.  But then, it sounds nothing like anything on the A-side, and nothing on the A-side sounds like anything on it.

Up next, "I Love Rock 'n Roll" by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

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