MUSIC

New paths for the trailblazing Boss

NICHOLAS JENNINGS October 12 1987
MUSIC

New paths for the trailblazing Boss

NICHOLAS JENNINGS October 12 1987

New paths for the trailblazing Boss

MUSIC

It arrived without fanfare. When Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Tunnel of Love, began appearing in record stores this week, it seemed calculated to avoid the industry-generated fireworks that accompanied last year’s five-record boxed set of live recordings. The new release is a quiet album of intense songs showing pop’s superstar to be more human than heroic. And it represents a major musical U-turn for the Boss. Springsteen has produced surprises before—he followed his exuberant, commercially successful double-record set, The River (1980), with the bleak, folk-oriented Nebraska (1982). Bom in the USA (1984), a collection of booming social anthems, presented Springsteen’s world view. Now with Tunnel of Lome (CBS), he unveils his domestic vision.

There was a time when Springsteen pointedly ignored love songs. “That was what everyone else did,” he once said. Those he did write—such as Fire—he let others record. But since his marriage in May, 1985, to model-actress Julianne Phillips, he has turned his gaze homeward. And despite the fact that Tunnel of Lome sometimes portrays love as a bumpy road, its lyrics are un-

abashedly romantic. Recording 11 of the album’s songs with minimal backup from his E Street Band, Springsteen has made one of his strongest personal statements to date.

It opens with Ain’t Got You, a profession of desire sung with a bluesy swagger accompanied only by a harmonica and the sound of Springsteen’s own snapping fingers. The third track’s title, All that Heaven Will Allow, refers to the woman he worships, and the lyrics say she is the one who “sets me straight and walkin’ proud.”

In other songs the romance is there—minus its roseate glow. Spare Parts, a blistering blues number, paints a raw portrait of a single mother whose life “feels like one big mistake.” Janey, abandoned by Bobby after she got pregnant, considers drowning her child. With his hollering vocals and sizzling guitar, Springsteen conveys her rage as she decides to pawn her wedding dress and engagement ring to survive.

Some songs appear to be more intimately autobiographical. The title track, dealing with the risks of commitment, borrows imagery from the New Jersey amusement parks of Spring-

steen’s youth: “The house is haunted and the ride gets rough,” he sings. “It’s easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love.” And Walk Like a Man describes a groom’s prayer at his own wedding for strength to follow his decision through. Written as a son’s confession to his father, whose footprints on the beach he once tried to fill, the song stands as one of Springsteen’s most candid compositions.

Tunnel of Lome brims with the confidence of an artist aware of his growing talents as a writer. For some time Springsteen has been learning the value of saying more with less. Now both his music and his lyrics show the elegance of economy. From the potent opening a cappella vocals of Ain’t Got You to the swaying waltz tempo of the last cut, Valentine’s Day, Springsteen finds strength in simplicity, and power in unadorned acoustic instrumentation. There are echoes of his musical heroes throughout, from Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison to Bob Dylan. But he has made the synthesis of those styles distinctly his own.

-NICHOLAS JENNINGS