My favourite album: Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen

Guardian and Observer writers are picking their favourite albums – with a view that you might do the same. Here, Sarfraz Manzoor shares his love for a Bruce Springsteen masterpiece

It was in the autumn of 1987, after a summer soundtracked by Rick Astley and Los Lobos, that I first heard Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love. I was 16 years old and had started sixth-form college and met an avid Springsteen fan whose evangelical zeal persuaded me to give this Bruce character a chance. I quickly become a disciple but Tunnel of Love was not then my favourite Springsteen album. As a teenager thirsting to escape his hometown and fantasising about meeting the girl of my dreams I much preferred the desperate, urgent optimism of Born to Run and the grainy, gritty realism of Darkness on the Edge of Town. What a difference 24 years make: today it's Tunnel of Love that I consider my favourite Springsteen album, and by natural extension, my all-time favourite album.

Tunnel of Love is not Bruce Springsteen's most successful album. It does not throb with youthful passion like Born to Run; it does not attempt to record the state of the nation like Nebraska, The Ghost of Tom Joad and The Rising and it sold a fraction of its predecessor Born in the USA. It is a quiet, often acoustic country-tinged album that has become more important to me the older I have become. Before Tunnel of Love Bruce Springsteen had mostly eschewed writing love songs; his songs were more likely to deal with losing your job than losing your heart. Love, when it appeared, was largely infatuation and painted in the primary colours of youthful yearning. "We'll live with the sadness and I'll love you with all madness in my soul," he sings on the title track of Born to Run. In his early records Springsteen implied that happiness was a girl, a guy and a car; on Tunnel of Love he began to wonder what if the car was heading in the wrong direction. His musical musings appeared to be inspired from personal experience. Springsteen had married actress/model Julianne Phillips in May 1985 after having met her seven months earlier. In the sleeve notes to the record Springsteen writes "Thanks Julie", but listening to the songs it seemed evident all was not well with their marriage; the couple filed for divorce less than a year after the release of the album.

Listening to Tunnel of Love reminds me of what Bob Dylan said about his 1975 record Blood on the Tracks. "A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album," Dylan said. "It's hard for me to relate to that. You know, people enjoying that type of pain." There is a fair amount of pain in Tunnel of Love – the dull gnawing pain of seeing life stray from the hoped for script. I love how Springsteen's song-writing refuses to trade in certainties; in Cautious Man he sings about a man who "on his right hand (had) tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear/and in which hand he held his fate was never clear". When I first heard the album I was a chronically inexperienced teenager who knew of love only what I gleaned from the songs of Lionel Richie and Foreigner; it was through listening to Tunnel of Love that I first learned that boy meets girl was the beginning and not the end of the story.

Rock music can sound hopelessly naïve as one enters adulthood; songs become vehicles for nostalgic time travel. The genius of Tunnel of Love is that its themes have become more pertinent with time; adulthood is after all a process of accepting the absence of absolute certainty and Tunnel of Love is a record riddled with doubt and the impossibility of truly knowing oneself or those to whom we entrust our love: in the words of Brilliant Disguise: "God have mercy on the man who doubts what he's sure of." I know of no other album that has better captured the messy three dimensional reality of relationships.

In one of the album's finest songs Walk Like a Man Springsteen describes a man preparing to get married. "Would they ever look so happy again the handsome groom and his bride?" he sings "as they stepped into that long black limousine for their mystery ride." It was listening to that song and those lines that last year persuaded my younger sister to change her mind at the last minute and attend my wedding. I have written in the past about the difficulties my wife and I faced when we announced to my family that we were going to get married. My family were opposed to the wedding and were set on not attending. I credit Tunnel of Love for ensuring that my sister and mother attended my wedding and on the day it was Walk like a Man that was playing in the chamber hall of Islington Town Hall as I waited for my future wife to make her entrance. It was fitting that Tunnel of Love found its way into my wedding day: there are not many things from when I was 16 that remain essential and relevant to me today at 40 but that album is both a reminder of my past and a companion for my future. The road to adulthood can be lonely and frightening but I feel less alone and less fearful whenever I hear Tunnel of Love playing in the inky darkness.

• You can write your own review of this record: once you're signed into the Guardian website, visit the album's dedicated page.

Or you could simply star rate it, or add it to one of your album lists. There are more than 3m new pages for you to explore as well as 600,000-plus artists' pages.

Maybe it's a different Boss album that you think is, well, boss. Or perhaps you prefer a more modern take on all things Bruce. Either way, it's time to find those albums and get to work!


Sarfraz Manzoor

The GuardianTramp

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