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Bruce Springsteen - Only The Strong Survive (Album Review)

Wednesday, 16 November 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

If you’re one of the greatest songwriters of all time, covering the work of others isn’t something you do out of necessity or on a whim. It has to mean something. So where 2006’s ‘We Shall Overcome’ found Bruce Springsteen passionately shining a light on folk numbers popularised by Pete Seeger, ‘Only The Strong Survive’ indulges his love for classic R&B and soul music to create a record that, although an entertaining curio, never feels as imperative as its predecessor.

It’s initially difficult to put your finger on why the 21st album of Springsteen’s career comes across as a transitory sugar rush, especially when there’s plenty to like about a loving and joyously crafted effort that, under the sage guidance of producer Ron Aniello, features gems by everyone from Tyrone Davis, Jimmy Ruffin and Ben E King to the Temptations and Frank Wilson.

Sticking closely to the perfectly rendered originals, albeit enhanced by contemporary production methods, radiant instrumental textures beam brightly around a fully committed Springsteen who, for this release, wanted to be nothing more than a singer interpreting some of his favourite hits.

The 73-year-old New Jersey legend currently possesses a full-bodied earthy baritone that, somewhat miraculously given all his years on the road, has only grown richer and stronger. On The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, in particular, his aching delivery and ageing perspective affords depthless gravitas to Frankie Valli’s original.  

That said, having a ‘fine wine’ voice doesn’t necessarily make someone equipped to pay tribute to legendary vocalists. Where Springsteen copes well with singers such as Jerry Butler and the Four Tops, those who operated in a higher register, and possessed effortless, natural articulation, such as Dobie Gray and William Bell, present a more obvious challenge to the Boss's tried and tested approach.

Springsteen works very hard to try and do their cuts justice, possibly too hard, but his rough-hewn tone often struggles to incite the requisite emotional magic. It often feels like he’s overcompensating, his intonation too intentional, expression over-earnest. As a result, the more romantic and lush material doesn’t always sit right beneath such a rugged and deliberate approach.

It’s perhaps no coincidence the record’s best moments harken back to his day job. In spite of not being able to match the Commodores’ blissful nostalgic croon, Nightshift has an atmospheric ‘Tunnel Of Love’ vibe. The soul-fired 7 Rooms Of Gloom, meanwhile, sounds like something from ‘The Promise’ and Do I Love You (Indeed I do) is the kind of preacher-powered romp the latter day E-Street Band could bring the house down with.

One or two of these cuts would absolutely kill in his live set, but over the course of 15 songs the feeling that something’s missing grows from a nagging whisper to a shout. Unlike ‘We Shall Overcome,’ where he reinterpreted and stamped his identity on socio-political material that shared DNA with his own work, this is mostly a well executed karaoke effort that lacks Springsteen’s magnetic storytelling voice.

Bruce Springsteen Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed February 01 2023 - TAMPA Florida - Amalie Arena (USA)
Fri February 03 2023 - ATLANTA Georgia - State Farm Arena (USA)
Sun February 05 2023 - ORLANDO Florida - Amway Center (USA)
Tue February 07 2023 - HOLLYWOOD - Hard Rock Live - Hollywood (USA)
Fri February 10 2023 - DALLAS - American Airlines Center - TX (USA)
Tue February 14 2023 - HOUSTON Texas - Toyota Center - TX (USA)
Thu February 16 2023 - AUSTIN Texas - Moody Center ATX (USA)
Sat February 18 2023 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - T-Mobile Center (USA)
Tue February 21 2023 - TULSA Oklahoma - BOK Center (USA)
Sat February 25 2023 - PORTLAND Oregon - Moda Center (USA)
Mon February 27 2023 - SEATTLE Washington - Climate Pledge Arena (USA)
Thu March 02 2023 - DENVER Colorado - Ball Arena (USA)
Sun March 05 2023 - SAINT PAUL Minnesota - Xcel Energy Center (USA)
Tue March 07 2023 - MILWAUKEE Wisconsin - Fiserv Forum (USA)
Thu March 09 2023 - COLUMBUS Ohio - Nationwide Arena (USA)
Sun March 12 2023 - UNCASVILLE - Mohegan Sun Arena-CT (USA)
Tue March 14 2023 - ALBANY New York - MVP Arena (USA)
Thu March 16 2023 - PHILADELPHIA - Wells Fargo Center-PA (USA)
Sat March 18 2023 - UNIVERSITY PARK Pennsylvania - Bryce Jordan Center (USA)
Mon March 20 2023 - BOSTON Massachusetts - TD Garden (USA)
Thu March 23 2023 - BUFFALO New York - Keybank Center (USA)
Sat March 25 2023 - GREENSBORO North Carolina - Greensboro Coliseum Complex (USA)
Mon March 27 2023 - WASHINGTON District Of Columbia - Capital One Arena (USA)
Wed March 29 2023 - DETROIT Michigan - Little Caesars Arena (USA)
Sat April 01 2023 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)
Mon April 03 2023 - BROOKLYN New York - Barclays Center (USA)
Wed April 05 2023 - CLEVELAND Ohio - Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (USA)
Fri April 07 2023 - BALTIMORE Maryland - Baltimore Arena (USA)
Sun April 09 2023 - NEW YORK New York - UBS Arena (USA)
Tue April 11 2023 - NEW YORK New York - UBS Arena (USA)
Fri April 14 2023 - NEWARK New Jersey - Prudential Center (USA)

Fri April 28 2023 - BARCELONA Estadi Olimpic (Spain)
Sun April 30 2023 - BARCELONA Estadi Olimpic (Spain)
Sat May 13 2023 - PARIS LA Defense Arena (France)
Fri May 05 2023 - DUBLIN RDS Arena
Sun May 07 2023 - DUBLIN RDS Arena
Tue May 09 2023 - DUBLIN RDS Arena
Mon May 15 2023 - PARIS LA Defense Arena (France)
Thu May 18 2023 - FERRARA Parco Urbano G Bassani (Italy)
Sun May 21 2023 - ROME Circo Massimo (Italy)
Thu May 25 2023 - AMSTERDAM Johan Cruijff ArenA (Netherlands)
Sat May 27 2023 - AMSTERDAM Johan Cruijff ArenA (Netherlands)
Tue May 30 2023 - EDINBURGH Murrayfield Stadium
Fri June 16 2023 - BIRMINGHAM Villa Park
Sun June 11 2023 - LANDGRAAF Megaland (Netherlands)
Tue June 13 2023 - ZURICH Stadion Letzigrund (Switzerland)
Wed June 21 2023 - DUSSELDORF Merkur Spiel Arena (Germany)
Sat June 24 2023 - GOTHENBURG Ullevi (Sweden)
Mon June 26 2023 - GOTHENBURG Ullevi (Sweden)
Wed June 28 2023 - GOTHENBURG Ullevi (Sweden)
Fri June 30 2023 - OSLO Voldsløkka (Norway)
Sun July 02 2023 - OSLO Voldsløkka (Norway)
Thu July 06 2023 - LONDON Hyde Park
Sat July 08 2023 - LONDON Hyde Park
Tue July 11 2023 - COPENHAGEN Parken (Denmark)
Thu July 13 2023 - COPENHAGEN Parken (Denmark)
Sat July 15 2023 - HAMBURG Volksparkstadion (Germany)
Tue July 18 2023 - VIENNA Ernst Happel Stadion (Austria)
Fri July 21 2023 - HOCKENHEIM Hockenheimring (Germany)
Sun July 23 2023 - MUNICH Olympiastadion (Germany)
Tue July 25 2023 - MONZA Prato della Gerascia (Italy)

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