Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love (Columbia) is quick product in the wake of the disappointing (i.e., less than gargantuan) sales of last year's live quintuple LP. It side-steps his mythic commitment to justice, the working class and the E Street Band. It embraces pop's great romantic cliché without pursuing it full tilt. It lays out what's on Springsteen's mind. It's a retreat, but a damned honorable one. What else would you expect from him?

Springsteen has never been much of a musician without his band -- however much you admire the grimly solitary Nebraska, you don't play it for pleasure. He has never shown much of a knack for the love song, either. Yet he has the audacity to make his love album almost as Spartan as Nebraska -- even when his bandmates do appear (Max Weinberg on eight tracks, the others much less often), they're uncharacteristically quiet. And Springsteen almost brings it off. His singing has gained a litheness that hints at syncopation, and he colors a few tracks by taking into his own hands the dreaded synthesizer.

Not all the songs have the knack--the album leads with a brave, flat joke and follows with a just-plain-flat cliché. But on the whole, this is convincing, original stuff--it zeroes in on fear of commitment as a pathology and battles it. Such lines as "You got to learn to live with what you can't rise above" and "God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he's sure of" have a confessional feel that goes a long way toward redeeming Springsteen's chronic romanticization of the road; and while they sum up Tunnel of Love thematically, they can't suggest its substance. For that, you'll just have to buy and listen hard.

Playboy, Feb. 1988

Jan. 1988 Mar. 1988