Brand New White Mustang
Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love (Columbia, 1987)
Bruce Springsteen - Walk Like A Man
Bruce Springsteen - Brilliant Disguise
If one were to break down the Boss's 80s output it is disparate to say the least: 'The River' represents his over expansive flirtation with gritty rock n' roll; 'Nebraska' established his credentials as the godfather of lo fi; 'Born in the USA' was the multi platinum monster; and 'Tunnel of Love'... it's his best. "His best?!", you holler. The first since his debut without the legendary E Street Band? The downbeat paean to the perils of domestic strife? The one that flits between accapella and synth overkill?
Well, firstly, the album's only weakpoint is the title track that tries to incorporate a fairground atmosphere into the production when a sparser arrangement would have suited as a perfect counterbalance to the cynical lyrical undertow. That's a fantastic strike rate considering the collective strength of the eleven other tracks present especially the likes of 'Tougher Than the Rest', 'Valentine's Day', 'Cautious Man' and, arguably his finest single, 'Brilliant Disguise' which perfectly incorporates all of the album's aesthetic charms and strength. The snare snaps in a syncopated pattern, an acoustic is buried under calypso cicada clicks and whistles, country guitar licks reinforce the anthemic chorus, and an electric piano ties down the high end. Meanwhile, the lyric borrows beautifully from influences ranging from Fitzgerald's 'Tender is the Night' to Lou Christie's 'The Gypsy Cried' as accusations of a partner's underlying motives become questions of one's own values and commitment. . "God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he's sure of"
' The River' is often found wanting due to its inability to establish a satisfactory rhythm. Moods ebb and flow with brainless filler often undercutting a more profound reach. 'Nebraska' despite its critical acclaim, wide reaching influence, and its status as my first purchase by New Jersey's finest still has a tendency to leave me cold. I'd love to be able to explain why but I myself am unsure as to the reasons behind this particular opinion. Perhaps it is a feeling that the work is richly veined by a disappointing pessimism that never pushes beyond self-pity resulting in a cookie cutter mix of imagery and frugal instrumental ambition. 'Highway Patrolman' is still my favourite Springsteen song though with its tale of conflict between two brothers on either side of the Crime and Punishment dialectic. 'Born in the USA' too often is tarred by the Brian De Palma technicolour brush with 'Glory Days' representing Springsteen at his most cloying with its stereotypical blue collarisms becoming slowly irrelevant. The title track is the most famous example of the album's inconsistencies with its perfectly honed anti-Vietnam diatribe becoming drowned by its overproduced stadium shout (the Boss's solo slide guitar version of the song is phenomenal). 'Tunnel of Love' could perhaps be said to be dated by its distinctive production that features synths and a frequent insistence on echo but that doesn't smother what is a truly brilliant meditation on the nature of man and that ultimate enigma: love.
Buy - Bruce Springsteen - Tunnel of Love