Sunday, January 4, 2009

Listening Session: Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love

I became a music fan because of Bruce Springsteen. Having never heard of him, I felt compelled to buy Darkness on the Edge of Town because of the record cover and the album title. I was lifted by the songs and enthralled by Springsteen's grand vision of ordinary life. The wild romaticism and the mythic quality of his songs were just the antidote needed by a 15-year-old growing up in a boring suburban town. Springsteen told me life is bigger than this. I believed him. I bought all his albums and a few bootlegs as well.

I picked up Tunnel of Love when it came out in 1987. I thought it was an okay album and quickly forgot about it. It was also the last Springsteen album I bought. Twenty years later, it's the Springsteen album I listen to the most. What's remarkable about the album is its smallness. Gone is the larger-than-life mythic vision. What's left is humility. It's the most un-Springsteen Springsteen album, more so than Nebraska, which turns out to have been a precursor to his more recent pursuit of a different kind of American myth. Tunnel of Love plays like a public declaration of divorce and apology, as the sense of a dissolving relationship seeps through the album. It can be a fairly uncomfortable listen, as if you're eavesdropping on a private conversation, thinking he's being too honest. It wasn't surprising to hear about his pending divorce soon after the album's release. Tunnel of Love is easily his most personal album and one of his best. In hindsight. 

Sound Quality: Most Springsteen albums don't have the sonic qualities that excite audiophiles. They sound muddy.  I seem to recall that this was on purpose, which makes sense for songs that harken back to old-fashioned rock and roll listened to on an AM radio. Tunnel of Love is an exception. It possesses near reference quality sonics. The dead wax shows Sterling as the source of the mastering and the liner notes credit Bob Ludwig as the mastering engineer, one of the best in the business. The dead wax also has a DMM stamp. Direct Metal Mastering cuts out a step in the record-making process, which usually results in a better sounding record. The end result is a transparency to the recording that contributes to the sense of intimacy created by the music and the lyrics.

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