Only the Strong Survive is the 21st studio album by Bruce Springsteen, which was released on November 11th. The album is a cover record of R&B and soul music, and it’s the Bosses’ second cover album in his long career, following ‘We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions’ from 2006.
Now in his seventies, with two albums of entirely new content released in two consecutive years (2019 and 2020) and an upcoming tour, Bruce Springsteen is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The Boss himself stated that with Only the Strong Survive he “wanted to make an album where he just sang” and “tried to do justice to the great American songbook of the ‘60s and ‘70s’. It’s clear this is a personal project of Springsteen’s where he wants to reconnect to the music he loves.
The first single, “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” was a strong choice, accompanied by a music video, full of energy and life. The number would make for a perfect set opener on tour. But does the rest of the album live up to it? Yes and no.
The are certainly some brilliant covers on OTSS like “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (…”The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky”) & second single “Nightshift” which wouldn’t be out-of-place on some of Springsteen’s classic albums from the 70s (if it was an original song). But the album simply can’t live up to the thrill new, original content would give. The production (while bombastic as always and full of energy) means that parts of the album blend together, and it can feel a little repetitive.
“I Forgot To Be Your Lover”, ft. Sam Moore is a welcome duet to slow the pace down and their voices pair well with one another, it’s debatably the album highlight. And things get better from there, ending the album on a high with “7 Rooms of Gloom”, “What Becomes of the Broken-hearted” and “Someday We’ll Be Together” But otherwise, this is exactly what you’d expect an old-man Springsteen-does-Motown cover record to sound like. No surprises, inoffensive, fun.
The Boss ain’t going nowhere (we hope!)
At this point in his career, when he’s arguably the best he’s been for a few decades, for Springsteen to call it quits would be an unwelcome shock.
So, if this is the type of music he wants to record, fair does. He’s earned it. Best for him to stick around than leave.
But a continuation of the sound of ‘Western Stars’ would be an interesting project, if not the return of the E. Street Band after they reunited with Bruce for “Letter to You” in 2020.
Discography-wise, this is classed as Springsteen’s official 21st album, but it feels like more of a side-project/an opportunity to get something out there before a fairly long tour.
If you’re a fan of soul and the Boss, you might find a lot to enjoy in this album. It certainly is full of enthusiasm and energy but during his mini-renaissance period of making music, it feels slightly underwhelming.
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