Bruce Springsteen wasn't a romantic young kid anymore. He couldn't write songs about hitting the road with his girl, because as he got into his late thirties, that wasn't the kind of thing that appealed to a married millionaire. So on the heels of his commercial blockbuster Born in the U.S.A. and the ensuing live boxed set that summarized and closed the chapter on the past ten years, Bruce Springsteen made a low-key, intimate record about adult relationships. "It's easy for two people to lose each other in this tunnel of love," he sings ominously in the title track.
"When I wrote the record," he told Rolling Stone after its release, "I wanted to write a different type of romantic song, one that I felt took in the different types of emotional experiences of any real relationship. I guess I wanted to make a record about what I felt. Really letting another person into your life, that's a frightening thing. That's something that's filled with shadows and doubts, and also wonderful things and beautiful things, things you've never experienced before and things you cannot experience alone."
Tunnel of Love deals mostly with shadows and doubts. Ten years after Darkness on the Edge of Town, Springsteen was singing in the voice of a man who, in the words of the remarkable "Brilliant Disguise," is "lost in the darkness of our love." At the center of the album is "Walk Like a Man," an open account of his wedding day. Surrounding the hope at the heart of that song are songs whose characters can barely keep their hopes alive: "Tunnel of Love," "One Step Up," the searing, hard-luck rocker "Spare Parts" and the fearful late-night reverie "Valentine's Day."
"I suppose it doesn't have the physical 'reach out and grab you by the throat and thrash you around' of, say, Born in the U.S.A." said Springsteen. "Tunnel of Love is a rock record, but most of the stuff is midtempo, and it's more rhythm oriented, very different. It was more meticulously arranged than anything I've done since Born to Run. I was into just getting the grooves."
It also came quickly. Unlike the modus operandi for most of his albums, Springsteen wrote only three or four extra songs, and he recorded the album swiftly, cutting most of the tracks in a small studio at his home in New Jersey. It was a quintessentially low-tech studio: It wasn't air-conditioned; Springsteen's Corvette had to be moved out of the way to do some piano overdubs; and if a car driving by honked its horn, the take would have to be redone.
Springsteen's first series of demos included nine of the album's twelve songs. "Brilliant Disguise" and "One Step Up" came later, and "Tunnel of Love" was written when Springsteen decided that it would make a good album title and set about composing a song with that name.
Most of the tracks were recorded, instrument by instrument, by Springsteen himself; though he later brought in E Street Band members and the odd outsider to add parts or replace drum machines, other musicians were used sparingly, and the entire band never played together. As a result, Tunnel of Love has an intimacy perfectly suited to the tales being told by a rock star determined to return to a more human scale in his music.
"The way you counteract the size [of stardom] is by becoming more intimate in your work," he said. "And I suppose that's why after I did Born in the U.S.A., I made an intimate record ... a record that was really addressed to my core audience, my longtime fans."