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The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 11-11-22 – 11-17-22, Bruce Springsteen’s “Only The Strong Survive” Reviewed

Finite talent is the nature of the beast. With the exception of Bob Dylan I can’t think of anyone from the 60s and 70s who haven’t run out of the steam if they haven’t died early. From Willie Nelson to Paul McCartney to Pete Townshend and Bruce Springsteen, the gift has gone. Bruce hasn’t released a good album since Human Touch (1992) or great album since Tunnel Of Love (1987). For all of Bruce’s many gifts in 2022, writing great songs is no longer amongst them.

But he remains a primary purveyor of rock and roll stadium rock, and Bruce hasn’t lessened his grip on providing an audience with spiritual revival through the healing power of rock. One of the best times I’ve ever seen Bruce was at MSG performing The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle in 2009 (here) and I mention this because he encored with Jackie Wilson and some of that joyful explosion overflows on this, Bruce’s best album of the century: it’s not that 60s (the album goes as far as the early 80s) soul is forgotten, though the loss of Sharon Jones sure hurt, it is that they are such indelible handprints that hip hop doesn’t even sample it enough, Vandross and Babyface absolutely, Sam and Dave and Jimmy Ruffin not so easy. That doesn’t stop Bruce.

Only The Strong Survive is a soul clinic as the Gospel according to Bruce: huge, very dramatic, soul and gospel(y) that Bruce sings straight through. When “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (the Bob Gaudio classic) aims for the heart, the harmonies and drums can’t interfere with Bruce’s pure rasp, the arrangements are as straightforward as you can get and the emotional thrust is still a dynamized vision of loss. Even songs I personally don’t know, the Gamble and Huff (and original singer Jerry Butler) “Hey, Mr. Western Union Man” are knock on great. If there is a let down, “Nightshift” is a little too off track for the album, they are far and few between and made up for by Sam Moore on “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” -where Van Morrison got “Have I told you lately that I love you”.

Bruce has always had a great deal of feeling in his singing, almost actorly the way he throws the songs at you, but for a change these are worth catching. There is a difference between describing a car accident during a rainy night and a heartbreak that feels like it effects the weather; Bruce wants to seduce us and also to include us in his immediate skill set, “Don’t Play That Song” uses a live take and back up singers as the beauty of horror overwhelms. It is like all a path not taken, a vision not pursued, and a gift from the age of panic.

Grade: B+

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