vinyldi_tunneloflove_cover

The Vinyl Diaries: Bruce Springsteen, “Tunnel of Love”

I was 17 the year Tunnel of Love was released; Bruce Springsteen was 38 and intent on ruminating, on taking stock, on running down a list of decisions and regrets, looking backward and around himself, because he was unable to see the way forward. I missed that then. To me, the album was just good; I simply didn’t know enough to recognize the pain and confusion that was quite real, quite apparent, had I known what to look for. Everything, it seems, was fair game, fodder for the music—his marriage, his sense of self-worth, his confidence in his ability to get even one thing right. What comes off the groove is not quite an emotional breakdown, but the tears are not far from the edge of his eyelids as he unloads some of the most trenchant, inward-looking lyrics he’d ever write, in a voice that is by turns soft/yearning and brash/cocky, set to music made almost entirely on his own. Tunnel of Love is an album-length meditation on the possibilities of love, as well as its limitations.

The sequencing of the songs on the record is masterful. Aside from the album-opener, “Ain’t Got You”—a goof, a jape; the juke to the left that enables the crossover dribble and move to the right for the easy score—the songs follow the progress of a relationship, from introductions, excitement, and uncertainty, through the blossoming of love and commitment, to the full fruition of that commitment, through the failures and fears and regrets that follow, ending with the hope that one’s decisions can serve one in good stead over the long haul.

Tunnel truly kicks off with “Tougher than the Rest” and “All that Heaven Will Allow,” two songs that explore the initial moments of giving into love, in spite of previous pain. “Tougher” is an echo-laden, arena-ready anthem in which Springsteen pulls off the feat of singing about vulnerability in the most heroic voice imaginable. He sees the object of his affection from across the room, and the attraction, by God, appears to be mutual. He knows, as he suspects she knows, that they could be heading for a world of hurt, but he is, at least tentatively, up for the challenge. “Somebody ran out,” he sings, “left somebody’s heart in a mess,” and it’s clear he’s talking about both of them. He’s not sure he can be the one for her—he’s neither handsome nor particularly sweet-talkin’—but if she’s “rough enough for love” and is willing to take the same shot he is, he’s willing to put himself out there one more time.

For all the big-room reverb in the song, the music is spare, and it segues nicely into “All that Heaven Will Allow”—the first date, if you will, when fear has melted into possibilities. The ideal is within reach, and the protagonist’s goals are simple—he wants everything. “Rain and storm and dark skies / Well now they don’t mean a thing,” Springsteen sings, “If you got a girl that loves you / And who wants to wear your ring.” That ring is the be-all and end-all—it represents the hypothetical forever, that point at which he and she can be together until there is no endpoint, ’til death they do part, without the faintest understanding of how long that truly is. It’s a plainly naïve sentiment, but one that may well be universal—if you’ve been there, you recognize it here. Feel free to smile and/or cringe.

The fear and caution inherent in “Tougher than the Rest” come roaring back in the next pair of songs, “Spare Parts” and “Cautious Man,” both story songs that reveal deep personal truths, even fears, about their teller. “Spare Parts” is an unsparing look at a relationship born of lust and unintended circumstances (“Bobby said he’d pull out, Bobby stayed in / Janey had a baby; it wasn’t any sin”). The woman in the union is front and center, as she weighs the life of her son against her desire to be untethered, to explore “the party lights” again, to escape the wages of her fateful decisions. The underlying tug and pull of the song rests in Bobby, who abandons his lover and child, swearing “he wasn’t ever going back.” His fear and reticence to step up to his responsibilities is given voice by the harrowing, dissonant music Springsteen layers under his howling vocal—the squeaking, overdriven guitar; the amplified harmonica; the swells and ebbs of screaming and shouting background vocals.

The music quiets as the intensity increases in “Cautious Man.” Springsteen tells the story of Bill Horton, a “cautious man of the road,” whose prudence extends to nearly every aspect of his life. Springsteen accents his creation, tellingly, with bits of Robert Mitchum’s preacher/murderer character from The Night of the Hunter—”On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear / And in which hand he held his fate was never clear.” Horton marries a young woman, builds them a house, and immediately questions his decisions, praying for steadiness that eludes him, “for he knew in a restless heart the seed of betrayal lay.” Ultimately, he recognizes in himself a distance from his wife, a coldness he cannot name, but knows he will always have. The song ends ominously; he gazes on her face as she sleeps, the “beauty of God’s fallen light” all around them, but that icy feeling in him remains. Springsteen leaves us hanging here—will Billy give into his cautiousness, and match his emotional distance by putting a physical distance between him and his wife?

He delves deeper into the meaning of commitment in “Walk Like a Man.” The singer is committed, but recognizes the price such dedication can exact. It’s his wedding day; his father—perhaps his hero, in spite of their differences—offers his best wishes in a handshake, then cries on his son’s shoulder. “So much has happened to me that I don’t understand,” the singer muses, and the story lifts into memory—first a beach vacation, then of weddings at a local church that his mother would drag him to watch. “Would they ever look so happy again?” he asks, and it’s unclear whether he’s asking the question then, as a child, or now, as a groom at the altar.

The devastating lines of “Walk” come in the final verse:

Well now the years have gone and I’ve grown
From that seed you’ve sown
But I didn’t think there’d be so many steps
I’d have to learn on my own
Well I was young and I didn’t know what to do
When I saw your best steps stolen away from you
Now I’ll do what I can
I’ll walk like a man
And I’ll keep on walkin’

The weight of the verse is palpable. Time is both boon and bane in the life of a relationship. A son can move away from his father for any number of contentious reasons (Bruce and Douglas Springsteen’s relationship was famously so), which brings freedom, certainly, but also costs that must be borne. Time can heal wounds, but it can also expand emotional gaps. When that time runs out, it’s gone for good, and that ending can be heartbreaking and empowering all at once. Once you know you’re on your own to figure this stuff out, you either fold or double down. Springsteen’s protagonist takes the latter tack, and in the song’s final image, the toll of the decision is telling. “And I’ll keep on walkin’,” he sings, recognizing that, even as he and his betrothed vow to walk together, a large part of who he is, has been, and always will be, will make the journey alone.

Side Two explores what happens after the wedding, when the real work begins. The title track’s central metaphor of love as a scary thrill ride starts the side with one of Springsteen’s richest musical moments. It’s Asbury Park writ large and spooky—boardwalk noises give way to keyboards and guitar and Max Weinberg’s mighty kick drum. The scene starts promisingly—the singer and his lady enter and the ticket-taker ogles the young lady as they get on the ride and commence to cuddlin’, the singer’s fingers finding their place on her blouse and unnamed “soft thrills” likewise commencing. All this gives way to greater, less pleasurable thrills—the fears a couple encounters once they’ve given themselves to their coupledom. It sits between them like a third body—”you, me, and all that stuff we’re so scared of”—and they briefly lose one another in the enveloping darkness.

Nils Lofgren’s slashing, harmonic-laden solo gives a voice to that fear, slicing through the shadows, leading the singer to a realization that is, in large part, a resignation. Sure, “it ought to be easy, ought to be simple enough” for two people to get and stay together. To get together, as he said in “Tougher than the Rest,” “all you gotta do is say yes”—get past your past and all the accumulated bullshit and take to the dance floor for a slow one. It’s the staying together that’s harder, perhaps the hardest of all. “You’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above,” Springsteen almost sighs into the music, which builds to yet another crescendo. What do you do when the ride is no longer fun?

You turn on yourself, he seems to say. If “Walk Like a Man” and “Tunnel of Love” are his OhmygodwhatamIdoing songs, “Two Faces” and “Brilliant Disguise” are his OhmygodwhathaveIdone songs. In the former, he recognizes in himself the ability—if not the damnable willingness—to betray his beloved, and he is close to hurting her. While one side of his personality takes pleasure in making her happy, the other side “does things I don’t understand,” giving into darker urges and the willingness to push her away, to believe their life together is “just a lie.” It’s an extraordinary admission, to recognize in oneselve the destructive elements of one’s personality, to feel “like half a man,” unable to place any kind of control over them, and to do this while maintaining the sunny disposition, the brilliant disguise, that reveals none of this to the woman.

Springsteen picks up the thread in “Brilliant Disguise” and the ensuing paranoia caused by his dishonesty finally causes him to snap in some deeply emotional fashion. He hears her whisper something to him and turn away, hears someone call to her from beneath a willow tree, sees her shamefully tuck something under her pillow (her wedding band? A tear-stained memento?). He weighs his own reticence with what he perceives is her own, working through his secrets by obsessing on what she, in turn, might be keeping from him. “I want to know if it’s you I don’t trust,” Springsteen sings, “’cause I damn sure don’t trust myself.” Nothing is working. They play roles (loving woman, faithful man) with a superficial trust that they never question, never even discuss, but which is cracking apart right under them. The tension builds until he has a late-night epiphany that shatters any pretense of trust, that enables him to give into his deepest fears of what they’ve done and what they might yet do:

Tonight our bed is cold
I’m lost in the darkness of our love
God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he’s sure of

What crumbles here is not a marriage, but the idea of destiny, that two people are meant to spend their lives together, forsaking all others, forsaking their basic nature as humans—as mammals, fer Chrissakes; how many other species mate for life?—tying their lives and expectations to someone else and expecting their attraction to last the whole of their lives remaining. The most cynical among us might laugh at the import placed upon societal norms regarding marriage, or on the weakness of certain people when it comes to living alone, or the independence some are willing to trade for some semblance of emotional security. God have mercy on the man who has bought into this, they’d say, only to realize he had a choice all along, and the one he made must either serve him in good stead, or stand as the subject of regret, the cause of pain, the betrayal of trust and/or one’s nature.

The final three songs on Tunnel of Love explore the aftermath of this epiphany, and taken together, they form a picture of a man slowly moving away from his promises, only to circle around again. “One Step Up” paints a portrait of marital discord, as the narrator moves from his home to a motel to a bar, considering the depth of his unhappiness, seeing and hearing proof of it everywhere he goes. “We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately, but we ain’t learning,” he thinks, pitifully. “We’re the same sad story, that’s a fact.” As a repeating figure plays on an acoustic guitar, he ambles through time (a day? A week? There’s no indication) with the arguments haunting him, the slamming doors giving way to songless birds that cross his path. “When I look at myself, I don’t see the man I wanted to be,” Springsteen sings, regretting the point in his life at which he “stepped off track,” without being able to pinpoint when exactly that happened. He makes eye contact with a woman across the bar—”she ain’t lookin’ too married / Me, honey, I’m pretendin'”—but all that arises in him is a dream of his wife. Whether he brings himself to give into temptation is unclear, but the dour tone leads one to believe he’d likely not enjoy such an encounter in his current state.

“There’s things that’ll knock you down you don’t even see comin’,” Springsteen sings in “When You’re Alone,” and one of those things is finding out your spouse has had it, and wants out. It’s the woman leaving the guy this time, but it’s not difficult to imagine Springsteen projecting the issues assumed by the narrators throughout Tunnel of Love, onto the protagonist’s lady. The repetitive chorus kinda grates after a couple turns, but it drives its point home effectively—when you’re alone, there’s nothing but that alone-ness to accompany you. You take your shot, you make your decision, you give into those expectations and pair up—supposedly for life—and it doesn’t work out. “It’s just nobody knows where love goes,” he sings, “but when it goes, it’s gone, gone.” You wind up back at square one, on a Saturday night, watching someone across the room, hoping she’s watching you back.

Alternatively, you work it out. You put it all back together, bring it back home, stick it out. You recognize you’re human, a creature not necessarily built to join with another for life, but you make the decision to do it anyway. There is love, after all. But there’s also a nagging in the back of your mind, and always will be. It sends you out to the highway, to drive into the night, to clear your head, give yourself the chance to think, give yourself at lease the appearance of the chance to drive away, to keep going until you find what you think you need.

What you need, though, is miles behind you, sitting in that home you’ve built for yourselves. She’s safe, but you’re not. You turn it around and put the pedal to the floor, praying you haven’t driven too far.

Such is the state of the man in “Valentine’s Day,” the last song on Tunnel of Love. With a bed of music that harkens back to Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Springsteen gives voice to a man who drives with one hand “steady on the wheel” and the other “tremblin’ over my heart.” His wanderlust has turned to fear—fear of losing his wife to something, anything, the finger of mortality or the hardness of his heart, both equally cold. A switch has flipped within him, though—perhaps it’s the news of a friend becoming a father; perhaps it’s the epiphany from “Brilliant Disguise,” only in reverse. God have mercy on the man who is so certain of his doubts that he throws away a woman who truly loves him, who he truly loves. “He travels fastest who travels alone,” he muses, but the pull of that love is greater than any pull to leave or run.

Of course, in the years to follow, Springsteen would run. He’d leave his wife and marry his backup singer; they’d leave Jersey for LA; he’d break up his band and make lackluster records with session musicians. He’d have something of a midlife crisis right there in public, a crisis that would call into question his ongoing viability as an artist. He would run, but like the protagonist in “Valentine’s Day,” he’d come back, at least to the band, and to his muse. It just took a while to unfold.

In 1987, though, nothing seemed quite so clear. In 1987, Springsteen was just feeling his way through the argument his heart and head were having. The work that emerged was arguably his last great statement as a songwriter for a good 15 years, one that revealed some very personal truths in some very stark terms. Tunnel of Love takes little time or effort to enjoy—it’s a well-crafted record, one that spawned several hits—but in order to truly appreciate it, it helps to have found love and experienced pain, the pain of being hurt by the one you love, or the pain of recognizing the hurt you have caused someone else. It helps to have run the gamut of giddy excitement, serious commitment, terrifying uncertainty, and warm relief.

In 1987, I loved the album. Now, however, I get it.




  • Blerd

    Great work here. Tunnel came out when I was 11, and I didn’t know much beyond the radio hits, which I liked plenty (“Brilliant Disguise” is probably my all-time favorite Bruce song.) I was fully introduced to the album when I was 18 or 19, and while I loved it then, it wasn’t until I had some life and relationship experience under me that I really *got* it. This remains my favorite Springsteen album and is probably second to Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” (which I was introduced to at roughly the same time) as my favorite “breakup” album. 

  • Blerd

    Great work here. Tunnel came out when I was 11, and I didn’t know much beyond the radio hits, which I liked plenty (“Brilliant Disguise” is probably my all-time favorite Bruce song.) I was fully introduced to the album when I was 18 or 19, and while I loved it then, it wasn’t until I had some life and relationship experience under me that I really *got* it. This remains my favorite Springsteen album and is probably second to Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” (which I was introduced to at roughly the same time) as my favorite “breakup” album. 

  • http://www.annlogue.com annielogue

    I have long believed that this is Springsteen’s second-best album, next to Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s just so amazing and so personal.

  • http://www.annlogue.com annielogue

    I have long believed that this is Springsteen’s second-best album, next to Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s just so amazing and so personal.

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    This is great stuff Rob. For many years I thought that Tunnel of Love was Springsteen’s best album. Thanks for reminding me why.

  • http://www.kenshane.com kshane

    This is great stuff Rob. For many years I thought that Tunnel of Love was Springsteen’s best album. Thanks for reminding me why.

  • EightE1

    Thanks, Ken.  I appreciate that.

  • EightE1

    Thanks, Ken.  I appreciate that.

  • EightE1

    Oh, wow … “Here My Dear.” I have that on CD somewhere; I need to dig that up.

    Obviously, I agree with you that it helps to have some heartache in your rearview, in order to really appreciate Tunnel. I heard things that I didn’t hear before. Spent two weeks working on this thing and it hasn’t let go of me yet.

    Thanks for the comment, Blerd-dude.

  • EightE1

    Oh, wow … “Here My Dear.” I have that on CD somewhere; I need to dig that up.

    Obviously, I agree with you that it helps to have some heartache in your rearview, in order to really appreciate Tunnel. I heard things that I didn’t hear before. Spent two weeks working on this thing and it hasn’t let go of me yet.

    Thanks for the comment, Blerd-dude.

  • EightE1

    I’d probably go with Born to Run at number one, but Tunnel is number two for me, too, fighting with Nebraska for the honor.

  • EightE1

    I’d probably go with Born to Run at number one, but Tunnel is number two for me, too, fighting with Nebraska for the honor.

  • http://twitter.com/ryan1212 Ryan Brzozowski

    I was about 13 when Tunnel of Love came out and I remember wondering where the hell all the big E-Street branded anthems were. Echoing what Blerd said, it took the rest of my teenage and early-adult years (the first-loves, the heartbreaks, the longing) to really appreciate this record. “One Step Up” still gives me goosebumps.  Thank you for putting this piece together.  I think I know what I’ll be listening to this weekend.

  • EightE1

    Thanks, Ryan. Agree with you on “One Step Up.” When he gets to the middle section (“It’s the same thing night on night”), I feel that chill.

    Enjoy it this weekend.

  • Robert Lefebvre

    Brilliant review Mr. Smith.

    When Tunnel came out, I was 26, and about to make a big mistake getting married. I bought a house and ended up alone in it, by my late, but wise choice. At different times, I’ve felt like every single male character on the album, especially Bill Horton and the fellow in One Step. Thankfully, the relationship ended a year later, all wedding plans cancelled.

    I have to say in hindisght, that TOL really served me well at the time. A year and a half later I met the girl I’ve been married 20 years to now. It was a funny time. We were wed in August of 1992, and all my feelings when listening to TOL became emotions of deep redemption. Everything I had beleived in about relationships, and how they should feel when things were right, manifested itself in many of the songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town. Those are not mediocre discs IMO, though there are a few duds on each. The day before they were released, my future wife and I were sitting in the car, with the radio playing the new Bruce tunes every 15 minutes. We had been discussing potential wedding songs when on came “If I Should Fall Behind.” The song basically chose us, and certainly has served me very well ever since. 

    Human Touch, Better Days, Living Proof, If I Should Fall, Lucky Town, Leap of Faith, Cross My Heart and Roll of the Dice are all songs that continue the stories from TOL.

    Perhaps one day so will see these discs with as much insight as you have found in TOL. I’m guessing that when you do, you’ll be in a very happy plaace.

  • Robert Lefebvre

    Brilliant review Mr. Smith.

    When Tunnel came out, I was 26, and about to make a big mistake getting married. I bought a house and ended up alone in it, by my late, but wise choice. At different times, I’ve felt like every single male character on the album, especially Bill Horton and the fellow in One Step. Thankfully, the relationship ended a year later, all wedding plans cancelled.

    I have to say in hindisght, that TOL really served me well at the time. A year and a half later I met the girl I’ve been married 20 years to now. It was a funny time. We were wed in August of 1992, and all my feelings when listening to TOL became emotions of deep redemption. Everything I had beleived in about relationships, and how they should feel when things were right, manifested itself in many of the songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town. Those are not mediocre discs IMO, though there are a few duds on each. The day before they were released, my future wife and I were sitting in the car, with the radio playing the new Bruce tunes every 15 minutes. We had been discussing potential wedding songs when on came “If I Should Fall Behind.” The song basically chose us, and certainly has served me very well ever since. 

    Human Touch, Better Days, Living Proof, If I Should Fall, Lucky Town, Leap of Faith, Cross My Heart and Roll of the Dice are all songs that continue the stories from TOL.

    Perhaps one day so will see these discs with as much insight as you have found in TOL. I’m guessing that when you do, you’ll be in a very happy plaace.

  • http://twitter.com/IrishJava Dennis Corrigan

    Great piece, Rob

  • http://twitter.com/IrishJava Dennis Corrigan

    Great piece, Rob

  • EightE1

    Oh, I’m pretty happy. At least, I’m maintaining, you know? Right now, my favorite Springsteen song is “Kingdom of Days,” from the last record; it speaks to where I am at this moment, at my age, in my marriage, etc. Bruce sings of happiness and comfort and a shared set of experiences with his wife. It’s a hard-won happiness, though; happiness in any marriage of decent length is hard-won, I suppose. I love the line that goes “We laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays” – it’s a moment with a lot of truth to it, and I smile whenever I hear it. I think the guy who wrote the songs on TOL had given up on living long enough with one person to find that kind of moment.

    Human Touch and Lucky Town did have moments; “If I Should Fall Behind” was definitely one of them (though I prefer Dion’s version, which recasts it as a doo-wop song. SO perfect). “Lucky Town” (the song) was another. My biggest qualm was the music, which seemed kinda hollow to me. A little antiseptic. Springsteen was notorious for wanting to get things perfect in the studio, but the sheen on those records was a little off-putting to me. Maybe you’re right, though, and I’ll revisit them at some point and appreciate them more. Not there yet, though.

    (Caustic aside: as much as I dislike those two records, there’s nothing on them nearly as bad as “Outlaw Pete,” from the last record. A true WTF moment.)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories. I’ve been blown away by the response to this piece, here and on Facebook, and I appreciate the kind words and conversation.

  • EightE1

    Thank you, Dennis.  I appreciate that.

  • Robert Lefebvre

    You are deserving of all the accolades my friend. Work very well done. Enjoy the ride!

    I couldn’t agree more on “Outlaw Pete” (might be the worst BS song period), and Dion’s ‘If I Should Fall,” (certainly one of the best Boss covers ever).

    I think most people’s issues with the two 1992 releases had to do with production. The sheen you refer to is part of it for me on Human Touch – hated and still hate the synth-fake horns on Real Man, another worst ever candidate. I did love the soulness of the disc, the vocal contributions of Bobby King and Sam Moore were great.

    Overall, it’s a disc that aches for Clarence’s sax and Danny’s fills. Having Roy in the mix only made their absence larger. 8 of 14 songs are keepers, with better arrangements for Real World and With Every Wish and adding Part Man, Part Monkey and Light of Day, we might have had something closer to classic Boss.

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely fantastic piece on an absolute masterpiece.  I was shocked by how low-key it was after Born in the USA but I loved it from the first. It took me years to realize, though, that the hopeful ending features the protagonist far, far from his loved one, making that beautiful, romantic ode far more ambiguous and tenuous than it would first appear. Such a great and subtle ending to such a great and subtle album.

  • EightE1

    Absolutely, Scott. Well put.

  • Anonymous

    …and I just realized, thinking through the other upbeat, hopeful songs that it’s true for them as well. “Tougher than the Rest,” they’re not actually together yet. Same with “Walk Like a Man”—they’re obviously a couple, but they’re not married yet, just on the cusp, and the fears are all bubbling just barely below the surface. Even “All That Heaven Will Allow”: sure, they’re together, but as the song starts, the narrator literally cannot reach her, having forgotten (“forgotten”?) his wallet…and he spends the last verse musing on death. Now there’s a sweet love song!

  • Anonymous

    I think his semi-whispered aside, “I’m caught” at the very end of the bridge is maybe the most heartbreaking moment in his entire amazing oeuvre. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ve gone back and forth on “Outlaw Pete.” I don’t hate it as much as many, nor do I find it as brilliant as some Bruce fans I know. I think, at this point in time, that I think it’s a noble failure and very much out of line with the rest of that very good album. But “Kingdom of Days,” along with “This Life,” are just stunning–great examples of a master still firing on all cylinders, but doing so at an age when almost no other rockers have managed to even eke out a good, much less great, song any more. There have been tons of great rock and roll made by young men; having great rock and roll produced by someone (nearly?) eligible for social security is almost unprecedented and utterly magnificent.

  • Lynchiefromsc

    Arguably, his best album – and I was 36 years old when it was released. “One Step Up” is probably his greatest heartbreaking song.

  • http://twitter.com/bschone1 Barbara S

    This is one of the most thoughtful reviews I have ever read of “Tunnel of Love.”  Thank you for sharing.  

  • EightE1

    I appreciate that, Barbara.  Thank you.

  • EightE1

    I imagine it hits pretty close to home for him; I’ve read he doesn’t play it live all that much.

  • EightE1

    The old guys are teaching the younger ones just how long one can do this. The idea of a 60-plus-year-old man going out and playing rock and roll to a paying audience, much less creating vital new music, was unthinkable not all that long ago. Now, among many others, you have Dylan at 70, still doing it, and doing it well. And Bruce, who’s still making solid records and who can still fill stadiums. How lucky are we to be around to still see them?

  • Anonymous

    Nice piece, Mr. Smith. I was a senior in high school when TOL came out. My best friend was a freshman in college about 100 miles away. The first time he heard “Brilliant Disguise,” (probably a month or so before the album dropped) he immediately dropped 4 quarters in one of his dorm’s pay phones to call me and with the following:
    1. I had to find a way to hear the tune ASAP (I heard it on our local AOR station shortly thereafter);
    2. This was going to be a doozy of an album;
    3. Had I heard anything about Springsteen’s marriage being on the rocks? 

    No doubt, it’s among his best albums. I’ve always felt Darkness, The River and TOL are Springsteen’s most autobiographical albums. It’s quite possible, however, that those are the three that most resonate with me.

    I’ve also been intrigued by how often “Tougher Than the Rest” is covered/cited by other artists compared to the rest of the album. Deservedly so, but I don’t recall it making that big a splash at the time. 

  • EightE1

    I was surprised to find a video for “Tougher,” while I was corralling YouTube links for the column.  Apparently it was released as a single in a bunch of places outside the US, and was a hit in the UK, among other locales. Who knows why it didn’t get to be a single here? Coulda been a big ‘un.

    I like Everything But the Girl’s cover, but Tracey Thorn can sing a report card and I’d enjoy it.Thanks for the comment.  Glad you liked the piece.

  • Jersey Shore

    One of my favorite Springsteen albums, or as I like to call it, “The One Where He Stopped Mumbling”.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like I’m a little late to the party but damn, what a sterling piece of music criticism. In a day and age when Spin has decided to reduce the majority of their album reviews to 140 characters for Twitter consumption (http://www.foliomag.com/2012/twittifying-spin ), it is absolutely refreshing to read this full-length treatment of an album and such a personal and thoughtful reflection and interpretation of this work. Great stuff Rob. Truly.

    While I buy far less albums these days, about every a couple of months, I order three CDs from Amazon (either new acts I’m curious about or catching up on more established acts). When I read this piece the other day, this album was one of the ones I ordered. It’s not the first time I’ve taken your advice on a record and I’m certain it won’t be the last.

    I do remember being knocked on my ass when I heard the title track back in 1987 (what a fan-fucking-tastic year for music). A few years older now, I suspect I’ll have a better appreciation for the whole album.

    Thanks again Rob. Hope all is well.

    Paco

  • Anonymous

    Looks like I’m a little late to the party but damn, what a sterling piece of music criticism. In a day and age when Spin has decided to reduce the majority of their album reviews to 140 characters for Twitter consumption (http://www.foliomag.com/2012/twittifying-spin ), it is absolutely refreshing to read this full-length treatment of an album and such a personal and thoughtful reflection and interpretation of this work. Great stuff Rob. Truly.

    While I buy far less albums these days, about every a couple of months, I order three CDs from Amazon (either new acts I’m curious about or catching up on more established acts). When I read this piece the other day, this album was one of the ones I ordered. It’s not the first time I’ve taken your advice on a record and I’m certain it won’t be the last.

    I do remember being knocked on my ass when I heard the title track back in 1987 (what a fan-fucking-tastic year for music). A few years older now, I suspect I’ll have a better appreciation for the whole album.

    Thanks again Rob. Hope all is well.

    Paco

  • Anonymous

    Looks like I’m a little late to the party but damn, what a sterling piece of music criticism. In a day and age when Spin has decided to reduce the majority of their album reviews to 140 characters for Twitter consumption (http://www.foliomag.com/2012/twittifying-spin ), it is absolutely refreshing to read this full-length treatment of an album and such a personal and thoughtful reflection and interpretation of this work. Great stuff Rob. Truly.

    While I buy far less albums these days, about every a couple of months, I order three CDs from Amazon (either new acts I’m curious about or catching up on more established acts). When I read this piece the other day, this album was one of the ones I ordered. It’s not the first time I’ve taken your advice on a record and I’m certain it won’t be the last.

    I do remember being knocked on my ass when I heard the title track back in 1987 (what a fan-fucking-tastic year for music). A few years older now, I suspect I’ll have a better appreciation for the whole album.

    Thanks again Rob. Hope all is well.

    Paco

  • EightE1

    DAMN, Paco … Really appreciate that. Thank you. I hadn’t heard that about Spin, but then again, I haven’t expected much from them in a long, long time.

  • http://twitter.com/swinging_volley Elaine Bauer

    Thanks for the beautiful dissection of this great work.  I’ve always thought this was one of Bruce’s best works — so haunting and introspective.  Not too long after this album was released, I went through a break up of my own and these songs got me through the heartache.

  • EightE1

    Great music can do that — help us survive the rough stuff.  Thanks for commenting, Elaine.

  • fredwil

    I’ve got to say this is probably my favorite album of all time – so fearless.  I’ll put Darkness on The Edge of Town as his second best album.  A nice companion album to TOL is Jackson Browne’s “I’m Alive” – again, a fearless, honest look at your hand in a great loss.  It aches.

  • Carr487

    A great album.  Indisputably tied up with the breakdown of his marriage to Julianne Phillips – seems accepted now.

    Someone caught me recently with my “Working on a Dream” T-Shirt on, summer before last I think.   Said the boss hadn’t done anything good since BITUSA.   I know where he is coming from. But for me, TOL is right up there – in the top 5 albums he’s done.  Stripped down to Bruce’s voice/guitar and the occasional input from an E-Street bander.   Some great songs in there.   You have to have been in love, and lost – to really understand it I think – was 17 when it came out.  Split from my 1st long term in ’93 and prior to that, those lyrics sunk in as I surveyed what was my relationship with the mother of my 1st child.

    Wind forward to 2001/2 and “The Rising” – yes, he has done some great work since, that album proves it.  I can see why WOAD & Magic get some stick (jury still out a little on Wrecking Ball I think).   Probably the most “intimate” album he will ever do. But anyway, there is no-one I would rather see live.   And what a ‘back catalogue’, what energy.  Should see him this summer in London (again Hyde Park), for the 3rd time. I expect (hope) for another 3 hour show.  His fitness puts me and many younger to shame.   Wish he would play songs from TOL, but I understand why not.   Even if the pain has gone, I’m not so sure Patti would be keen him putting his usual bucket of feeling & emotion behind some of these.  A closed chapter now of Springsteen’s life.   But a terrific record.

  • doron

    why don’t you like “Outlaw pete”?

  • EightE1

    I just think it’s a bad song. At eight minutes, it’s over-long. I don’t care for the cowboy story, and as the first track on the album, it brings no momentum to the proceedings whatsoever. IMO, better to have started it with “My Lucky Day,” which has adrenaline to spare.