Bruce Springsteen, one of the most legendary musicians and recording artists of all time, has made a bold move to cross genre lines with his latest release Only The Strong Survive. Springsteen explores ideas of love and what home means to him through Gospel, Motown and Soul standards like I wish it would rain and I forgot to love you.
Before creating this project Springsteen had recorded an entirely different album. But scrapped it because he wasn’t inspired by it. Thankfully, this yearning for inspiration is what led him to record the genre-bending album we got with Only the Strong Survive.
When discussing the inspiration for this project Bruce Springsteen said on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that artists like Sam Moore and Frank Wilson moved him to create this album. Springsteen noted in particular that the song Do I love you, initially recorded by Frank Wilson, drove Springsteen to want to do an album based on covers of similar music.
We hear his passion for the song Do I love you on this album. The track is full of energy and a loud brass and woodwind section, an aspect of gospel and Motown music that Springsteen uses throughout the album. In particular, Do I love you pulls stylistically from Motown & Gospel artists. Another song with clear ties to these styles.
The church organ is an iconic piece of gospel music and is showcased this instrument on the third track of the album Nightshift. A song originally recorded by the Commodores, the track opens with a loud and vivacious church organ that sets the mood for this optimistic track. The track evokes the emotions of nostalgia and hope.
Everyone, hopefully, knows at least one of the 15 songs on this album. Many of them are classics in their own right. With tracks like Any Other Way and When She was my Girl, there is something on this album for everyone to enjoy and sing along with.
Springsteen’s song choice throughout the album does a beautiful job of introducing the listener to lesser-known music and blessing the listener with great renditions of American classics.
Bruce said about gospel music that “The greatest vocal music is of course gospel.” Springsteen shows that he understands the vocal technique used to make this kind of music on tracks like Don’t Play that song and Hey Western Union Man. In Don’t Play That Song we see Springsteen masterfully controlling his voice. He starts off different from his standard singing style, seeming to try and imitate a Motown sound. Over the course of this song, he lets it all out. You can almost feel the intensity of love he has for music.
Only the Strong Survive as a whole is a love letter to Motown and the gospel of music. We hear his dedication to this style of music through his use of horns and backup singers. Springsteen through the entirety of the album fuses Motown and Gospel music with a hint of rock and Americana. To create tracks that are quintessentially Springsteen while exploring new kinds of music for the artist.
The 51-minute-long album keeps the listener intrigued through the entire listening experience, every track exploring a different facet of the genre of Motown or Gospel. This album has a wide range of tracks from ballads filled with emotion like I forgot to be your lover to songs that are upbeat and energetic such as Do I love you.
Reviewed by Aidan Truckenbrod