Bruce Springsteen – Only The Strong Survive

A joyful reimagining of soul classics...

Bruce Springsteen does soul… it’s always been there; The Boss has always been a fantastic soul singer, but has always gravitated towards his own brand of anthemic heartland rock. But, truth be told, his soul roots have never really been fully explored, until now. Yes, there have been flirtations with other genres on 2006’s covers folk-Dixieland infused album ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’, but ‘Only The Strong Survive’, his 21st album, is a deep dive into the world of soul, Tamla and R&B.

Bruce’s new album is a carefully curated collection of his most loved soul and R&B covers which is diversity personified. This isn’t a straightforward ‘best of’ Motown/Stax compilation, it’s an astute sonic journey through a genre that has always resonated with The Boss.

This nostalgic recollection focuses on executing the songs from some of the great soul singers which includes Dobie Gray, Jerry Butler, David Ruffin, Roy Orbison, The Commodores and more. 

What’s unequivocally clear is Springsteen’s passion for this genre is the care and enthusiasm he has for this collection. ‘Only The Strong Survive’ is a love letter to the genre of the American soul songbook that shaped him in his formative years.

It’s also an ideal opportunity for a new audience to discover glorious discoveries from a rock ‘n’ roll stalwart. The raspy tones of Springsteen are still there, but there’s unabashed emotion, vulnerability and unbridled passion. 

Bruce Springsteen – Only The Strong Survive

The lyric from the opening track (a cover of Jerry Butler’s ‘Only The Strong Survive’) almost epitomises Bruce’s feelings towards this style of music “I remember my first love affair…” You can really feel the love and care he has for these songs. This isn’t just a covers album, it’s a heartfelt tribute. This deep sense of feeling can also be felt on tracks like Dobie Gray’s ‘Soul Days’, with beautiful lyrics like “But my first love was always the songs…” and the richness and phrasing of Bruce’s voice really elevates this track.

Bruce takes us on a vibrant and joyful free-wheeling exploration of studied soul covers, all of which were recorded at Springsteen’s home studio in Colts Neck in the USA. One particular standout is a soul classic David Ruffin’s ‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted’, which is possibly one of the more obvious songs that have been included on this album. This is exquisitely done and the soaring majestic arrangement coupled with Bruce’s impassioned vocals really sets the tone of the album and is a polished yet tender reimagining of the song.

Without a doubt, ‘Only The Strong Survive’ exemplifies Springsteen’s unfaltering commitment to top-notch musicianship and production.

8/10

Words: Emma Harrison

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