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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 1, 2012
In my review of MAGIC, Springsteen's new 2007 album, I confessed that I never listened to TUNNEL OF LOVE. Not because thought it wasn't worth my time, but simply because I had never gotten around to it. Given how much I like BORN IN THE USA, and a lot of Springsteen's catalogue, I figured this would be a pretty logical album to begin exploring, especially after I was taken to task by a one of the commenters on my MAGIC review.

Since I wrote that review, I've taken the time to listen to TUNNEL OF LOVE. Truthfully, I've been listening to it a lot. I'm still coming to terms with the album, but I do find the record rather invigorating, and rather fun to listen too, fun like a BLOOD ON THE TRACKS kind of way.

When Springsteen had a big commercial success with the double LP THE RIVER in 1980, he followed that album up with NEBRASKA, a stark, acoustic affair of demo recordings. Depressing stuff. Nothing anthemic at all, not what arena rockers are looking for. Good record though.

Then when he did BORN IN THE USA in 1984, which has a bright, poppy sound, though still rather dark lyrically, Springsteen was catapulted to the upper echelon or rock and roll immortality. While you could argue he did that almost a decade previous with BORN TO RUN critically, without a doubt BORN IN THE USA is what really broke him into the national music scene and made him one of the biggest rock stars of the early 1980s, USA being on level with THRILLER by Michael Jackson and 1984 by Van Halen. Of course when you have a big album like USA, there's always the question of the follow up.

Fortunately, he did not make another NEBRASKA, which would then be almost formulaic (big commercial success, THE RIVER, acoustic and dark, NEBRASKA, big commercial success, BORN IN THE USA, stark acoustic affair, repeat ad nausem. You get the idea). So how do you follow up a commercial juggernaut like BORN IN THE USA?

By turning in almost a "concept album" about love, marriage, the ups and downs of commitment and how the sexes relate to one another. While I hesitate to use the term "concept album", which has as many negative connotations as it does positive, there is a certain amount of truth in the term. While Springsteen has always been focused lyrically on blue-collar America and all the harsh realities that often entails, with TUNNEL he's in a much different mind-set than he was, say, in DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN or BORN TO RUN. Here, he's writing about love, but it's just as often not all it's cracked up to be.

Lyrically, Bruce is focused on romantic relationships, and quite a few of them are not in a happy state. His marriage with model Julianne Phillips was in the midst of failure, and it was during this domestic situation he wrote the songs on TUNNEL OF LOVE. A lot of the songs are deeply conflicted, full of pain, and you can tell Springsteen is just struggling to keep the ship on an even keel in regards to his home life. He also writes a song "Walks like a man", yet another song about his relationship with his father.

The opening song, "Ain't Got You", an upbeat, fast tempo song, has Springsteen lamenting that for all his success he still doesn't have a true love. One of my favorite Springsteen lyrics (and the title of this review) come from this song: "Getting paid a king's ransom to do what comes naturally." Like most famous entertainers who have become legends in their prospective fields, this couldn't be more true. Look at Dylan, McCartney, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Eddie Vedder, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, any number of high profile rock and roll stars.

While TUNNEL has a lot to do with his homelife, don't go into the album expecting something similar to Bob Dylan's masterpiece BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, because the albums have surprising little in common. For one, BLOOD, written and recorded a full 13 years earlier, has a much starker sound. Dylan wrote BLOOD while his marriage was literally falling apart, and you can feel Dylan's anger and pain dripping off each note played. The music is intimate and personal (save for "Idiot Wind", where Dylan's more pissed off than hurt, at both his soon-to-be ex-wife Sara and himself, and a particular favorite of mine "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts", a short story set in the old west), and set the template for a lot of singer-songwriters. If you're looking for something similar to BLOOD, listen to Dylan's own TIME OUT OF MIND, which is BLOOD's principal narrators aged twenty three years, or Beck's 2002 album SEA CHANGE, a great breakup album.

TUNNEL, on the other hand, sounds like a natural sequel to BORN IN THE USA, musically at least. The music sounds very much like a mainstream rock album would in the 1980s. You could argue TUNNEL even sounds rather dated, though I do not mean that in the negative context that term often implies. The music is bright and poppy, even though it is still one of Springsteen's most introspective records lyrically. Sure, there are a couple of moments where the music sounds low-key and intimate, but overall, despite all its lyrical explorations, Springsteen has always been first and foremost a rock musician, and he dresses his lyrics in strongly arranged settings.

Not surprisingly, the album met with strong sales, and had some high selling singles. Again, not so surprising, the album did not meet the success of USA, which still remains Springsteen's commercial, if not necessarily his critical, xenith. Still, you can't help but think a lot of TUNNEL's success was from career momentum as much as anything else.

So where does TUNNEL stand in regards to the rest of his discography? Pretty high up. Those who like USA will really like this, as well as MAGIC. For my money, these albums form a rather loose trilogy, bound together musically, though not necessarily lyrically. These three albums sound more of a piece, music in a similar vein, than any of Springsteen's other albums, much like NEBRASKA, GHOST OF TOM JOAD, and DEVILS & DUST feels like its own trilogy. Springsteen even ends TUNNEL in the same way as he does USA - a mid-tempo, rather depressing song that sounds pretty similar to "My Home Town", the last song on USA.

Overall, TUNNEL OF LOVE is the connector between USA and MAGIC. Springsteen has some great songs here, pretty introspective stuff. Like USA the music itself is feel-good, anthemic rock and roll, even though the lyrics have an unusual amount of pain in them, given the music that accompanies them.

Tunnel of Love chart positions:
Album Sales: US #1; UK #1

Single Sales:
"Brilliant Disguise": #1
"Tunnel of Love": #1
"One Step Up": #2
"All That Heaven Will Allow": #5
"Tougher Than the Rest": #13
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on September 6, 2000
Tunnel Of Love is Bruce's most personal and introspective album. After the mega successes of Born In The USA and Live 1975-1985, Bruce took a step back to record a more quiet and intimate record. Bruce had married Julliane Phillips during the Born In The USA madness and love and marriage are the main themes running through the album. Most of the relationships discussed are not happy ones. The couples in "Brilliant Disguise", "One Step Up", "Two Faces" and "When You're Alone" all face problems that breaking up their relationships. "Walk Like A Man" is a man who longs for the joy of his wedding day, the title track tells of the rocky ride that love takes you on. The song contains a line that sums up love, marriage and relationships and the album itself. It goes "it ought to be easy, ought be simple enough, man mets woman and they fall in love, but this house is haunted and the ride gets rough". Bruce's marriage to Julliane fell apart, but the struggle he was going through laid the groundwork for this breathtaking record.
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on December 7, 2005
on equal par with "born in the usa" one of my fave springsteen albums.
this album shows a more pronounced romantic side, perhaps to appeal to his feminine fans???
or perhaps because he'd fallen in love?
anyway, "i ain't got you" a totally wicked song, with a great simplistic accoustic sound & poetic lyrics.
"tougher than the rest" (if you're tough enough for love...?) this is one of bruce's best ever songs, totally love it, typically romantic in his gritty edged way, but showing his sensitive soul,
"brilliant disguise" as with other tracks herein, it is a man being totally honest, admitting his failings, his fears & his demons - love him for this!
"tunnel of love" continues the theme, taking a chance on the bumpy (and often scary!) ride that is love........
"when you're alone, such a deeply sensitive song, very beautiful.
this whole album really just sounds like a man totally bearing his soul, being honest & humble. a lot of people could learn from this!
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on June 28, 2004
Obviously the majority of the reviews posted here agree with me that this is one of Bruce's finest albums. However, it seems to be one of the more neglected collections in his catalog, even from Bruce himself who rarely plays any of these songs in concert. To me, it's his most cohesive and coherent collections- a concept album without the pretentions that often go along with such. Bruce captures all the aspects of love and relationships, and that's not always a pretty thing. There's the unrealistic idealization of "Ain't Got You", the giddy joy and optimism of "All That Heaven Will Allow", the swagger and cockieness of "Tougher Than the Rest" (a great country song from a non-country artist), the ambiguity of the title song, and the despair and self-doubt of "Brilliant Disguise" and "One Step Up" (Bruce's most beautiful song, rivaled only by "Racing in the Street"), and finally the acceptance and moving on of "When You're Alone". I hope that my marriage never "falls apart when out go the lights", but it's great comfort to know that there's someone who recognizes that love is a strange, tenuous concept and that romance and relationships can bring out both the best and worst times in our lives. That we have Bruce Springsteen putting these ideas into song is truly a gift to any music-lover...
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I became a fan of Bruce's music because of his brilliance as a latter-day rock'n'roll singer, exemplified best on his classic album, Born in the USA. I was therefore somewhat doubtful when I learned that this album was very different with none of the hard rocking songs I'd come to expect from him (although some songs get close, notably Spare parts). Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about this album, which reflects the difficulties he was having in his personal life - he was heading for divorce - during the period he was creating this album. As usual, Bruce wrote all the songs by himself.
One of the more upbeat songs here (compared to the rest of the album) is All that heaven will allow, which was later covered by the Mavericks. This song exactly suited their style and I prefer their version although I also enjoy hearing Bruce sing it. Another song that I became familiar with via a cover is Tougher than the rest, a song of defiance in the face of adversity, which has been covered by Emmylou Harris.
The set open with Ain't got you, which Bruce starts singing unaccompanied, although the musicians join in eventually. Spare parts, a tragic tale about a woman who gets pregnant only for her man to desert her, has a driving rock beat to disguise the sadness. Bruce pays tribute to his father in Walk like a man. Most of the other songs are love stories, generally sad.
In its way, this is a great album, but Born in the USA remains my favorite of Bruce's, with The River second. If you are new to Bruce's music, this is not the best starting point - however, it is a fascinating album that shows a different side to him. No self-respecting fan of Bruce's music should overlook this album.
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on July 18, 2003
My Rating - 5.4/5 (For great songs - One Step Up and Valentines Day)
"Tunnel of Love," in some ways, is a transition for Bruce. Some songs echo former songs, but with a slight twist. "Spare Parts" reminds me of songs on "Born in the U.S.A," but without the synthesizer, while "Cautious man" belongs more on "Nebraska." The album as a whole carries on the synthesizers from "Born in the U.S.A." but to a more heartbroken beat, as most of the album deals with the difficulties involved in love and relationships. Bruce will go on to develop this music style in "Streets of Philadelphia," "Secret Garden," and "Nothing Man." Be warned, you will develop a love/hate relationship with these songs. Bruce uses the synthesizers brilliantly in most of the songs, but in some cases the fake music ruins the song.
Highlights -
"Spare Parts" - A great song reminiscent of former Springsteen music, with a new look.
"One step up" - A great song about a relationship on the rocks with someone you really love. The song is good for foot tapping, shaking your head, closing your eyes, staring out over a lake, or walking and thinking.
"Valentines Day" - Overall great song.
"Walk like a man" - A song that will probably strike a chord in every man.
"Two Faces" - See below.
Negatives -
"Tunnel of Love" - Really a good song but the heavy synthesizers in the beginning ruin it.
"Two Faces" - Also a good son featuring a brilliant solo guitar beggining ruined by solo synthesizer ending.
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on July 12, 2003
This is an album you never get tired of! I certainly never have. Some of my favorite Bruce songs are on this record, such as Tougher Than the Rest, Tunnel of Love, One Step Up, and Valentine's Day. Try to push all your misconceptions of the "Boss" aside -- that "Born in the USA" bandana-wearing rocker -- and discover the sheer beauty of these songs and what he is trying to convey. I love how Bruce can combine deep, sometimes cynical, introspective lyrics with upbeat melodies like on the title track(another example, Dancing in the Dark), or just blow the listener away with the sparse but intense and sorrowful arrangement on "Cautious Man". There's also the more Bruce-sounding rocker, Spare Parts, the only almost unsentimental track on the album. These songs are just too much. They remind you that everyone has had emotional scars and troubled love, and self-doubts about themselves. Bruce's voice may not have the edge, the raw power, of Born to Run or Darkness on the Edge of Town, but Tunnel of Love gives us the opportunity to hear a soft, bruised-sounding voice full of longing and hope, and to hear this amazing musician at his songwriting best.
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on October 18, 2002
As he did when he released the stark, minimalist Nebraska on the heels of his commercial breakthrough, The River, Bruce Springsteen followed the phenomenonally successful Born In The U.S.A. with the laid-back, lyrically-anguished Tunnel of Love. Although it is not as bare and stark as Nebraska was - featuring contributions from members of the E Street Band, though not in true band arrangements - it is, nevertheless, a distinct and ultimately rewarding, if unexpected, surprise. It surprised me, who recently discovered it - no doubt it surprised those who bought up Born In The U.S.A. by the truckload. Springsteen is unquestionably one of rock's finest lyricists, though I would not call him a poet - not even in the sense that other singer/songwriters (Dylan, Cohen, Waits) are - he is, as many have pointed out, more akin to a novelist: since he writes most of his songs in the form of narratives, one can use a phrase that has been applied to Nick Cave's songs to describe his as well: musical novellas. His lyrics on this album deal specifically and totally with romantic disillusionment, and they are as penetrating as one would expect. From the opening teaser, Ain't Got you (which seems to be Bruce's attempt at an Elvis song); to sorrowful but rewarding tracks such as Spare Parts, Cautious Man, and Walk Like A Man; to Brilliant Disguise, an absolute masterpiece of a track and one of his best songs ever - this is, if not Bruce Springsteen's best album, certainly a mighty fine one. Highly reccommended.
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on September 22, 2002
The album is a story and builds within itself...from the 2nd song "Tougher than the rest" with it's marlon brando stance; to "Walk like a man" an intimate look at how Bruce admires his father whom he fought with; then comes "Tunnel of Love" which is quite haunting but moves really well, it's the climax of the story where Bruce is saying 'one of us is going down on this dangerous ride'; next comes "Brilliant Disguise" where Bruce is on to her, but holding on for the kill; and personally, my highlight of the album is "One step up" which is so honest and so painful that it's hard to forget or stop listening to (Eddie Vedder did a good cover of this song); the last two songs are slow movers but really give closure to the album, the listener, and probably Bruce himself, going, "Baby, when you're alone, you ain't nothin' but alone..." and on "Lonely Valentine", you really feel like you're riding along the highway on a cool, late night, letting the wind and lanes pass quietly by while thinking of the one person you had to let go...thanks, Bruce, for at least one time, letting us into your life...
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on July 15, 2002
Although not reflected by the "lovefest" evident in these reviews, this album gets cast aside in discussions of Springsteen's "best" because it is supposedly "cold" or "emotionless". Nebraska gets a "bye" from some critics, some no doubt are the same folks who don't care for this record because Nebraska, clearly, is not autobiographical while this record clearly IS about Springsteen and the emotions he was going through at the time it was released.
"Spare Parts" and "Tunnel of Love" are a couple of my all time favorite songs. The lyrics cannot be ignored. Sure, there is a ton of cynicism in them but they accurately portray the emotions that most of us go through at various junctures of our lives. The difference is that few of us can hope to put the emotions into words, much less to music. I don't think it is that many cannot relate to the songs it is that they'd rather not, the uncomfortableness hits a little close to home.
The beauty of a Springsteen is that he can put into words and music the complex emotions of everyday life, emotions that don't fit into the "feel good" box that most artists live in. I'd put Bruce's stuff in this album up against Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, John Prine and others who don't fit into the "one size fits all" box.
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