Bruce Springsteen - Only the Strong Survive Music Album Reviews

Bruce Springsteen - Only the Strong Survive Music Album Reviews
Bruce brings heaps of feeling to a new set of some of his favorite, largely obscure soul songs, giving them a confident, faithful, and occasionally synthetic sound. 

There are Bruce Springsteen albums born of obsession and perfectionism, endless studio hours and piles of discarded could-have-been classics left in the vaults. There are others that arrive in sudden flashes of creativity, bolts of inspiration with the smoke still rising while you listen. And now there is Only the Strong Survive, a covers album he made in early lockdown during “off hours” at his home studio, where he recreated a selection of his favorite, largely obscure soul songs alongside producer Ron Aniello and engineer Rob Lebret.

Before you rush to judgment about another classic rocker taking the Rod Stewart route, it’s important to remember that covers have always meant something different for Springsteen. Whether he was turning a Jimmy Cliff reggae single into an arena-ready burst of tension and release, or digging through centuries of American folk music to craft his most playful and vibrant record of the 21st century, he has a way of not only telling us his favorite songs but also showing us how those songs make him feel. It’s a quality that’s allowed chestnuts like “Shout” to stand alongside, say, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Jersey Girl” as staples of his concert setlists for decades.

From the opening snare thwack of the title track, however, it’s clear that Only the Strong Survive is a less transformative endeavor. “Now I remember my first love—of course, the whole thing went wrong,” the 73-year-old announces in his warm crackle of a speaking voice, updating Jerry Butler’s original with only some slight variations in word choice and an actorly chuckle. From there, it’s almost note-for-note: the strings and backing vocalists, the walking bassline and mid-chorus fadeout. (A “Volume 1” on the cover indicates there’s more where these recordings came from, and it quickly becomes evident how he was able to be so prolific.)

The most surprising thing about Only the Strong Survive is the song selection itself, which ranges from classics like Jimmy and David Ruffin’s “Turn Back the Hands of Time” to relatively modern fare like Dobie Gray’s 2000 song “Soul Days” and later gems from groups like the Commodores (1985’s “Nightshift”) and the Four Tops (1981’s “When She Was My Girl”). For those with even a casual familiarity with Springsteen’s music, it will be obvious what draws him to this material. The arrangements share his penchant for grand catharsis and minor-to-major uplift, blues in the verse and gospel in the chorus. In the lyrics, there are Chevrolets, backroads, summer nights, and lost love. Even just glancing at titles like “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and “Someday We’ll Be Together,” the connections are so evident and obvious that he barely has to adjust them to put his own stamp on the music—and so he doesn’t.

In the place of his more characteristic touch is a confident, faithful, and occasionally synthetic-sounding accompaniment provided largely by Aniello as his one-man band. (Sam Moore of Sam & Dave makes two welcome appearances as a guest vocalist.) Since 2012’s Wrecking Ball and its grab-bag follow-up High Hopes, Aniello has proven to be Springsteen’s most focused studio collaborator, seemingly pushing him to explore a specific element on each release. On 2019’s Western Stars, it was a wistful, melodic side of his solo songwriting, embellished with lush orchestral arrangements that felt like completely new territory. On 2020’s warm plate of comfort food Letter to You, it was the live-in-the-studio sound of the E Street Band: a familiar atmosphere that encouraged Springsteen to dig back into his catalog for abandoned songs he had yet to record with his bandmates.

On Only the Strong Survive, as Springsteen tells it, the focus is his voice. In an introductory video, he is practically shouting with excitement about the fruits of this exercise. (“I’m a good old man,” he says, cracking himself up.) You can hear what’s got him so hyped. From a gravelly whisper to a full-throated croon, a giddy roar to an anguished howl, the material allows him to explore the range of his late-career delivery, the same way his Broadway show could swerve between vulnerability and self-effacing humor without losing its narrative thread. There’s a jolt of comic desperation as he bellows “I live with emptiness” to kick off “7 Rooms of Gloom” and a sense of profound tenderness as he tells us it’s “gonna be all right” in “Nightshift.” He makes the nostalgia of “Soul Days” feel like a recollection of his formative years in Asbury Park, while it’s easy to imagine the regret of “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” situated between his own tortured chronicles of couples drifting in and out of each other’s lives.

On a record whose unrelenting brightness veers as close to Vegas as Springsteen has ever allowed himself—even 1992’s Human Touch, another largely upbeat collection with a similar set of influences, feels downright gritty by comparison—these moments of purpose help earn its place in his ongoing winning streak of studio work. It’s got character, and more than that, it’s got energy: Springsteen has never sounded quite so lighthearted, so unburdened, on record. It’s easy to think of a few ways he could have made this music feel more essential to his body of work—say, enlisting his E Street bandmates to help flesh some songs out—but at this stage in his career, he seems more driven by the act of creating itself: lighting a spark and watching as it grows, knowing someone, somewhere, could find a little hope in its light. After all, he reminds us, that’s what these songs provided for him.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Bruce Springsteen - Only the Strong Survive Music Album Reviews Bruce Springsteen - Only the Strong Survive Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on November 19, 2022 Rating: 5


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