November 11, 2007

Fudged Tunnel of Love

I respect Bruce Springsteen. When I was a kid, I liked Born in the U.S.A. and the nine-minute long video to “Rosalita” that MTV used to play, and I dig much of his classic material to this day. I have no probem with anybody talking about how classic Born to Run, Nebraska, and The River are.

Unfortunately, listening to an album like Tunnel of Love makes me want to take three shots of Ragged Glory washed down with a gulp of Reign in Blood. Alright, so that’s never a bad thing, to want to listen to those latter two albums repeatedly, but what I’m getting at here is that Tunnel of Love is far too dainty and glossy for a dude who always works to project that “earnest blue collar frumpery” (as Ancient Scientist so aptly put it in another post here). Track by track, here are my complaints:

• “Ain’t Got You” doesn’t work. The arrangement and production are far too vanilla to pull off the intended rootsy effect, and this album is in trouble already.

• “Tougher Than the Rest”, huh? Then stop with this wussy shit and get back to some rock.

• Okay, “All That Heaven Will Allow” is even worse. “I can’t be late I’ve got a date with all that heaven will allow.” What the hell does that even mean? See, I don’t usually listen to lyrics in rock songs. I just assume that they suck, and I’m okay with that, if there are other redeeming qualities. When I like a song, and the lyrics turn out to be pretty good, too, then that makes for something special. But, damn, Boss, there’s nothing to save a track like this in instrumental or melodic terms, so you draw me to the lyrics, and I recoil in horror.

• He’s sure belting it out on “Spare Parts”, and with the full E St. Band, this may have worked, but it sounds ridiculous in this context.

• Okay, finally, the fifth track, “Cautious Man” is a good tune that really works with Bruce’s vocals and the acoustic accompaniment, so far the only tune saving this album from becoming a total suckfest. If we can’t have the E St. Band, then this is what I want out of Bruce Springsteen!

• But Bruce fails to sustain the artistic momentum on the stultifying “Walk Like a Man” (which has me dozing off at my keyboard while I’m trying to write this review!).

• The title track isn’t a bad tune, but the cheesy keyboards are far too prominent in the mix. They make Bruce’s Fender Esquire seem like nothing but a prop in the video, which is a shame, because the man can wail, and a little more guitar in the mix, beyond that ridiculously choked and dated-sounding Alex-Lifeson-esque lead, probably could have helped this one.

• Oh no! Listen to those hideous keyboard chirps at the end of “Two Faces”!

• “Brilliant Disguise” is a decent tune, but that obnoxious percussion track almost sinks it.

• A David Sanborn solo would be right at home on “One Step Up”, so I’m glad for Clarence that he didn’t suffer the indignity of being asked to contribute here.

• “When You’re Alone”. Cute there, Yogi Berra. . .way too fucking cute to work for Bruce!

• “Valentine’s Day” is alright, but it’s too late to salvage the album by this time.

There is no way that this should be on a Top 500 greatest-all-time albums list. Instead, Tunnel of Love belongs on the shitpile with other misfires by rock greats who succumbed to ‘80s production issues on some of their worst albums: Go to Heaven by the Dead; Landing on Water and Life by Neil Young; Dylan’s Shot of Love and Knocked out Loaded; Mistrial by Lou Reed; everything Paul McCartney touched; Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla; the Stones’ Dirty Work. Why Rolling Stone doesn’t let this stinker rot away with the rest of ‘em is beyond me.


polchic said...

"A David Sanborn solo would be right at home on “One Step Up”, so I’m glad for Clarence that he didn’t suffer the indignity of being asked to contribute here."

Len, you are knocking it out of the park every time. Another great post.

Jahidi Hoya said...

As I read the song-by-song analysis of this album something become quite clear to me. I think the success of this album can only be understood within the context of Bruce Springsteen. As I reflect on each song I am instantly putting it into the context of his entire career. If you do not have this framework than I have to agree that many of the specific concerns brought up earlier may have validity.

"Ain't Got You" - A proclamation that this will not be a sequel to Born in the USA. In fact, this is a clear statement that the success of that album has put Bruce into an entirely new perspective.

"Tougher Than the Rest" - The love referenced in earlier albums was presented in epic fashions. The love referenced in this song is so much more introverted. It was no longer the "West Side Story" approach to love.

"All That Heaven Will Allow" - The most optimistic song on this album. It references back to the happy spirit found on some of the lighter tracks on "The River".

"Spare Parts" - This song is the offspring of the characters from "The River" mixed with the lost souls from "Reason to Beileve" from the "Nebraska" album. The loss of love and breakdown of the human spirit "Keep the world turnin' around".

"Cautious Man" - Couples from the Springsteen albums of the 1970's were always running away from some type of danger or fear. This was a song about a man that decided to stop running from that fear.

"Walk Like a Man" - Bruce's relationshp with his father is one of the cornerstones of his music. He is the embodiment of all of the doubts, fears and anger that drive Bruce. This song is the perfect bookend to "Independence Day" or "Adam Raised a Cain".

"Tunnel of Love" - Bruce always had songs about love. Bruce always had songs about self doubt. This is one of the finest examples of these two themes coming together. This would be something that would drive a lot of his later works.

"Two Faces" - Another song that is probably best taken in context with the story of his father. It is not about his father in any direct way, but it is clear that he has become a bit of a broken man. One of his fears may be coming true, he is becoming his father.

"Brilliant Disguise" - The characters of earlier albums were very decisive and knew what they wanted. This is a story where none of the characters are clear about who they are or what they want. The characters from his earlier albums used to run away together. Now they are trying to run away from each other.

"One Step Up" - Not to continue going back to the well, but this song is yet another example where a household conflict is the center of the story. Instead of being about a father and son that are at opposite spectrums, this is about a relationship that is breaking apart.

"When You're Alone" - Many of the early Springsteen albums were about independence. I guess if you take it too far it becomes isolation.

"Valentine's Day" - The imagery of a "car rushin' up the highway in the dark" is pure Springsteen. Is the singer worried about losing his lover or is he really worried about losing himself? Taken in context of a brilliant career, I suspect it was the latter.

Jahidi Hoya said...

I would also like to point out that Bruice Springsteen would never whore himself out like David Bowie! Spongebob Squarepants?!?! Does the guy have any integrity anymore!

Ancient Scientist said...

The rock chameleon needs no integrity, unlike salt-of-the-earth Bruce.

venerableseed said...

dear Scientist: I love how you wield the term "salt-of-the-earth" with such venom! If you ended up with a prof job in some corn country hinterland I would sooo fear for your students.

Less tangentially, how has Bruce maintained an earnest salt-of-the-earthness (good connotation) when he's from Jersey and has been a millionaire for good on 30 years?

Ancient Scientist said...

I wasn't using salt-of-the-earth as a put-down, necessarily, this time. It's just that Bruce's self-image is more wrapped up in being a man of the people while Bowie's is about being a superior being from another planet. So the stakes for a Bruce sell-out would be much higher.

Is it true that Ronald Raygun (zap!) used "Born in the USA" as his campaign song in 1984? How does that work? Does he need permission? Did he have a clue what that song was about? Did it matter?