Friday, February 14, 2014

Bruce Springsteen Performs His Own ‘50s Rock On Tunnel Of Love

The Good: Some of the lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, Some painfully predictable rhymes, Instrumental accompaniment and vocals are boring.
The Basics: A surprisingly lackluster album from Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel Of Love ages poorly.

Every now and then, I find myself completely surprised by an album I am reviewing. After eight listens to the Bruce Springsteen album Tunnel Of Love, I found myself surprised: it is not, in fact, a cover album. While Springsteen’s die-hard fans might be aghast saying, “Of course not!” the album itself does not make that evident. Tunnel Of Love has a very 1950’s rock and roll sound to it, from the opening number “Ain’t Got You,” which sounds like a lost Elvis record, to the fact that “Two Faces” borrows several stanzas from the Lou Christie song “Two Faces Have I” (how the hell Springsteen got away with not crediting them is a mystery to me!). So, having recognized some lines and hearing a sound that was very 1950’s, I actually thought Tunnel Of Love might be a cover album.

But, it’s not. As it turns out, Tunnel Of Love is an album of (mostly) original works by Bruce Springsteen. The album came out in 1987 and it is hard not to note that it might not have aged as well as some of Springsteen’s other works. While some of his earlier albums have an originality or Dylanesque timeless quality to them and some of Springsteen’s newer works have a freshness that is very modern, the sound on Tunnel Of Love sounded old when the album was first released.

With a dozen songs clocking out at only 46:25, Tunnel Of Love is short and has a very retro rock and roll sound. Bruce Springsteen wrote all of the songs on the album (though at least one has lines from another song!) and he composed all of the music for them. In addition to presenting all of the lead vocals, Springsteen played a number of instruments on each of the songs (though members of the E Street Band appear on most of the tracks) and Springsteen was a co-producer of the album.

Instrumentally, Bruce Springsteen presents a somewhat more Spartan album than many of his other studio recordings. Springsteen is a man on guitar and/or bass or keyboards with percussion on most of the tracks. Despite the full rock and roll sound of “Ain’t Got You,” the album is actually one of the musically less rounded or powerful albums Springsteen has created. Outside “Tougher Than The Rest” (which was a bit repetitive), I’m not sure I’d be able to pick out a tune from any of the tracks on Tunnel Of Love if I heard them again without the vocals.

Vocally, Tunnel Of Love is thoroughly unimaginative; Bruce Springsteen growls his way through all twelve songs. While he arranges the songs well, he takes no real vocal risks on Tunnel Of Love. The lines he lifted from “Two Faces Have I” on his song “Two Faces” are lower (Springsteen does not play with falsetto at all on Tunnel Of Love) than in the original and in his song, the tempo is changed as well. On Tunnel Of Love, Springsteen sings lower and less articulately than he does on most of his albums.

Lyrically, Tunnel Of Love is also one of Springsteen’s least imaginative albums. While Tunnel Of Love has musical storysongs that one might expect from Bruce Springsteen, the poet uses far less complicated or impressive rhyme schemes on this album than on others. For example, it’s hard to imagine “C'mon Slim slip me in man / I'll make it up to you somehow / I can't be late I got a date / With all that heaven will allow / Rain and storm and dark skies / Well now they don't mean a thing / If you got a girl that loves you / And who wants to wear your ring” (“All That Heaven Will Allow”) popping up on other, better Springsteen albums.

That said, Springsteen does try to present his characteristic sense of creating musical storysongs on Tunnel Of Love. He creates characters, settings, and themes on songs like “Spare Parts.” When he sings “Bobby said he'd pull out Bobby stayed in / Janey had a baby it wasn't any sin / They were set to marry on a summer day / Bobby got scared and he ran away / Jane moved in with her ma out on Shawnee Lake / She sighed Ma sometimes my whole life feels like one big mistake / She settled in in a back room time passed on / Later that winter a son come along” it is hard not to feel like the familiar Springsteen is present and singing something he cares about. Even with its predictable rhymes, “Spare Parts” is an uncommon, somewhat folk-like song on the lyrical front.

Springsteen infuses some of the songs with decent imagery as well. It is hard to deny Springsteen is a poet with lines like “Bird on a wire outside my motel room / But he ain't singin' / Girl in white outside a church in June / But the church bells they ain't ringing / I'm sittin' here in this bar tonight / But all I'm thinkin' is / I'm the same old story same old act / One step up and two steps back” (“One Step Up”).

In the end, Tunnel Of Love is not bad, it’s just unmemorable. As such, it’s hard for me to come up with the usual best and worst tracks of the album. It’s not unpleasant to listen to at all, but it’s hard to argue it’s worth it, either.

For other works by Bruce Springsteen, please check out my reviews of:
Born To Run
Born In The U.S.A.
Greatest Hits
The Ghost Of Tom Joad
Live In New York
The Rising
Devils & Dust
We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions
Working On A Dream
High Hopes


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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