Bruce Springsteen

Brilliant Disguise

Song Review by

In the fall of 1987, by all rights, Bruce Springsteen should have been sitting on top of the world. His 1984 release Born in the USA was a massive commercial success which confirmed his status as one of the biggest and best-regarded artists in American rock, and his long-awaited live album topped the charts on its first week of release in 1986, a rare feat in the pre-Soundscan era. But "Brilliant Disguise," the first single from Springsteen's much-anticipated album Tunnel of Love, was the last thing one might have expected from one of the world's biggest rock stars -- a striking confession of self-doubt and the musical equivalent of the sort of thoughts that keep a man awake at night as he stares at the ceiling. Paring back the big, burly sound of the E-Street Band to low-key synthesizer drone, a piano, a spare rhythm section, and an acoustic guitar, "Brilliant Disguise" records the thoughts of a man who knows his marriage is falling apart but doesn't know just who or what is to blame. Alluding to infidelity that may or may not have happened and an emotional distance that becomes all the more obvious as both parties try to ignore it, Springsteen sings with quite intensity, "I wanna know if it's you I don't trust/Because I damn sure don't trust myself." It's a line that neatly sums up the song's mingled emotions of jealousy, confusion, and the clear and lingering anxiety that the woman who stood beside our narrator at the altar has suddenly become a stranger. From a songwriter whose view of love was generally more emotional than intellectual, "Brilliant Disguise" (and many of the other cuts from the Tunnel of Love album) was a striking departure and suggested that the detour into more personal and downbeat themes on the album Nebraska was beginning to influence his writing about relationships as well. Armchair psychologists are also welcome to read as much as they want into Springsteen's own marital situation at the time; in 1985, at the height of Born in the USA mania, Springsteen married actress Julianne Phillips but within a year of the release of Tunnel of Love, reports began to circulate that his marriage was in trouble and he had become romantically involved with Patti Scialfa, who sang backup with the E-Street Band. In 1989, Springsteen and Phillips divorced, and in 1991 he tied the knot with Scialfa, in what by all accounts has been a happy marriage.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Tunnel of Love 1987 Columbia 4:17
No Image 1987 Columbia 0:00
No Image 1988
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
Greatest Hits 1995 Columbia 4:15
No Image 2000
Various Artists
Realm Records 4:14
Nebraska/Tunnel of Love/The Ghost of Tom Joad 2002 Sony Music Distribution 4:17
The Essential Bruce Springsteen 2003 Legacy / Columbia 4:15
No Image 2003 4:15
The Collection [#2] 2004 Sony Music Distribution 4:15
Chapter & Verse 2016 Columbia 4:16