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Album Review: Bruce Springsteen – Only The Strong Survive

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Review by Gary Spiller for MPM

Just one track into the latest recorded offering from Bruce Springsteen and the outside world ebbs away; rivulets and droplets disappearing through the grate.

Now one single album, even one as fine as this, isn’t going to correct all the modern-day ills but it is sure going to make the ride a whole lot better. A 15-track antidote if you wish.

Outside the rain is lashing against the window and the stiff westerly is howling up the street. Inside, however, I’m warm in the embrace of Springsteen’s inner soul. Just a few months shy of the golden anniversary of ‘Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J’ and Springsteen, chrome glistening, is in the finest of fettles on this, his 21st studio long-player.

Herein we, the listener, are treated to skilful re-workings of soul and R&B tracks in the mindful eye of Springsteen. Alongside him co-producer / engineer Ron Aniello contributes on a multi-instrumental plane; the E-Street Horns feature prominently. Afterall, what would soul be without a healthy serving of brass?

Titular track ‘Only The Strong Survive’ is handed the honour of opening the album. Recorded by Elvis and Rod Stewart, amongst many, this 1969 single from Jerry Butler retains its soulful, sleek nucleus whilst Springsteen’s grittiness complements so very efficiently. A groove is set and you’re on course to follow it as faithfully as the needle upon the vinyl.

Dobie Gray’s ‘Soul Days’ brings in a sweetly purring Chevrolet with Springsteen, sleeves rolled up James Dean-like, accompanied by Sam & Dave’s Sam Moore. Further legendary names are scattered as petals upon a summery breeze as the Commodores’ first hit post-Lionel Richie ‘Nightshift’ gracefully slides in. This track, the second single to precede this album’s release, possesses a ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ vibrancy whilst paying respect to Marvin and Jackie with every ounce of respect originally intended.

Radio 2 playlist first single ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)’ – Frank Wilson’s only Tamla-Motown release – sparkles brighter than the 4th of July with tenacious brass aplenty atop a stomping beat. Keys swirl entwining with clematis-grace further enhance a shimmering product.

Originally a limited success for Frankie Valli but synonymous with The Walker Brothers ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ is treated faithfully with a Spector-esque Wall Of Sound production enhancing Springsteen’s crystalline vocals. There are, indeed, many facets within.

Wishing upon a four-leaved clover Springsteen sprinkles his sorcerous talent upon Tyrone Davis’ ‘Turn Back The Hands Of Time.’ A marriage of the current with past that tumbles forth throughout the entirety of this album. Permeating a street-funk engineered in downtown Chicago ‘When She Was My Girl’ takes the Four Tops’ 1981 hit-single upon a railroad journey across the decades and right through the pulsating heart of blue-collar Springsteen.

A second Jerry Butler track ‘Hey Western Union Man’ is enrichened with lush strings accompanying wondrously bold brass as Springsteen implores, in delightful tones, “Send a telegram to my baby.”

“A man ain’t supposed to cry” laments Springsteen during a sympathetic moment of melancholy, that oozes pain and sentiment aplenty, during a rain-drenched rendition of The Temptations’ ‘I Wish It Would Rain.’ The latest of the vanguard of singles Ben E. King’s ‘Don’t Play That Song’ receives a rock n’ roll undercurrent to further augment that 60s vibe without overdoing it and overspilling into a kitsch petticoats and dreamboats environ.

The William Bell penned ‘Any Other Way’ is a soulful pageant that pockets a blues-edged strategy before Springsteen, along with Sam Moore, pleads penance in the emotional ‘I Forgot To Be your Lover.’ Another track recorded by Bell and given a gloriously unimaginable reworking by one William of Idol some years later in 1986.

Springsteen casts his eye upon a second Four Tops number with ‘7 Rooms Of Gloom’ upbeat tempo serving up thermic risings as the New Jersey rocker emotes “I’m all alone, all alone. In this house that’s not a home.” The challenges of overcoming the struggles of sadness of the loss of love is a continuing theme in a resonant delivery of Jimmy Ruffin’s ‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.’ Walking in shadows Springsteen is a just soul with this classic.

‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ – the last of a dozen Stateside chart-toppers for Diana Ross & The Supremes – provides a summery finale at the tail-end of this soulful comet. Aged 73 years young Springsteen is living testament to ‘Only The Strong Survive.’ This is his formative years whilst retaining a connective modernity pouring forth herein. A boss-sized masterpiece.



1. Only the Strong Survive
2. Soul Days feat. Sam Moore
3. Nightshift
4. Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)
5. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore
6. Turn Back the Hands of Time
7. When She Was My Girl
8. Hey, Western Union Man
9. I Wish It Would Rain
10. Don’t Play That Song
11. Any Other Way
12. I Forgot to Be Your Lover feat. Sam Moore
13. 7 Rooms of Gloom
14. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
15. Someday We’ll Be Together






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