July 1998

Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love
Sony/Columbia COL0040999
Released: 1987

by Doug Schneider

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on CD]To some, Bruce Springsteen is the American savior of popular music. To others he is nothing more than a one-note rock and roller with a penchant for singing about the common man—an artificial and contrived image since there is absolutely nothing common about a music superstar who earns millions of dollars. I used to be part of the latter group, but I've joined the former. I think he's for real. Springsteen is anything but predictable, and Tunnel of Love, his follow-up to the stadium-filling Born in the USA, shows that Bruce may be as sincere as his on-stage persona.

Released in 1987, Tunnel of Love was the most unlikely album Springsteen could have made and draws immediate comparisons to his stunning Nebraska. Why was it so unlikely? Because, at the time, Springsteen was on a career high. Born in the USA established him as a mass-market musical Messiah, and his 100,000-seat, four-hour concerts became legendary. He had never been richer, never been more famous, and had just gotten married to model Julianne Phillips. He had the life everyone dreams of, at least every common man. But to Springsteen, it wasn't a happy life. Before the tabloid press could report on the demise of his marriage, he wore his heart on his sleeve and chronicled it in Tunnel of Love. Nothing more needed to be said.

Tunnel is a dark, brooding album about love found and love lost—his own. Like Nebraska, it's mainly acoustic with only a small number of musicians. Springsteen doesn't use the entire The E-Street Band, only a few members on separate tracks. The disc begins with "Ain't Got You" where Springsteen proclaims "the only thing I ain't got baby, I, ain't got you." From its opening statement of love lost, Tunnel moves through themes of betrayal, infidelity, and dishonesty. And when in track 6, "Walk Like a Man," Springsteen sings "would they ever look so happy again, the handsome groom and his bride," you know where his own life is heading. By track 11, "When You're Alone," the nail's in the coffin. Tunnel of Love is a stunning album, but unfortunately, not the type of music everyone wants to hear.

As far as sound quality goes, for a Bruce Springsteen recording this is actually quite good. That is not to say it actually sounds good in any absolute sense because on the whole it doesn’t. It's just that most of Springsteen's recordings sound excessively compressed, lacking in any type of dynamic range, richness or semblance of a soundstage—in short, sonically, they are awful. The liner notes say that Tunnel of Love was recorded and mixed entirely using Sony digital equipment—this isn't the type of news that puts smiles on the faces of audiophiles. Still, I do enjoy its weighty presence and closely miked vocals, which give the disc a warmer, more intimate feel suitable for the sparse arrangements. However, it screams of high frequency digititis and lacks any real resolution.

What I find unfortunate is that most people know Springsteen from his most famous albums, The River and Born in the USA. It's unfortunate because they are not his best work. His best would be (first) Nebraska, and (second) Tunnel of Love. Simple, intimate and effective is how I sum both of them up. And they help to show that maybe the plaid shirt, jeans and boots are indeed for real.

So, you may be wondering, why am I reviewing this CD now, given that it’s over ten years old? Because it’s great, transcendent, and I want to plant the seed in the minds of those at MoFi, DCC or Sony/Columbia to remaster it!