The songs were composed and recorded in the same fashion as Nebraska, but access to better equipment made it easy to imagine that whatever he crafted in his garage might suffice as product one day. The E Street Band made the roll call on the sleeve, but their contributions to the album were minimal; in fact, there wasn’t even a Clarence Clemons solo anywhere.
Those fearing another stark Son of Nebraska would have been calmed by “Ain’t Got You”, a one-chord Bo Diddley knock-off that shakes the cobwebs off pretty well. “Tougher Than The Rest” introduces the keyboards that bed most of the tracks, and along with “All That Heaven Will Allow” provides a pair of would-be classics. Then, as several besotted critics noted at the time, the roof falls in. While “The River” famously included a plot twist that would be too racy for prime time TV, “Spare Parts” is even more explicit about Bobby and Janey’s situation. Despite the production, it’s a very bleak song, though the chorus, which provides the title, is little more than a placeholder. “Cautious Man” could well be a character from Nebraska, only this fellow’s demons are far from psychotic. And if it ever becomes tradition for a groom to dance with his own father at a wedding reception, “Walk Like A Man” would be the ideal choice for the song.
Side one has its moments, for certain, but side two is stacked with the hits that make the album a keeper. The title track, supposedly the last song recorded for the project, sums up the theme of the album with an excellent metaphor, along with an excellent swirling arrangement and a terrific wordless bridge. (As a further portent, Patti Scialfa howls along with the rides in the background.) “Two Faces” addresses the dichotomy hinted at in “Cautious Man”, but in a more creative way, culminating in a gloriously cheesy organ solo. And while those same suspended chords that started in “My Hometown” and popped up whenever he touched a synthesizer are still here, “Brilliant Disguise” is one of his best, most concise songs, with an excellent hook and garbled lyrics that inspire all kinds of interpretation (not least of which, “the wee wee hours” still suggests what gets every man with an aging prostate out of bed in the middle of the night). “One Step Up” builds from blues clichés (“woke up this morning”, “bird on a wire”) and uses another as its hook, but it’s still a haunting little tune, and one of his more understated singles. After all the doubt that has gone before, “When You’re Alone” comes off as something of a threat, but the devotion of “Valentine’s Day” leaves us thinking that this marriage can yet be saved.
In the tri-state area, anything he did was news, and frankly, this was the first album of his non-believers like us actually enjoyed—mostly because it didn’t sound like Born In The U.S.A., and because so many of the bandwagon jumpers seemed to be averse to it. Still, it was a hit, helped along by the usual videos. A decent drum machine (for the time) made the songs radio-friendly, but those same drums and keyboards unfortunately box some of the tracks into an ‘80s straightjacket. That aside, the songs are excellent, and go a long way to proving that he wasn’t just the denim-clad cartoon with a bandana that had captured the world’s attention just a short time before.
Bruce Springsteen Tunnel Of Love (1987)—4