Liner Notes 17.Nov. 2022
The Boss, Bay Area Power Pop, and a dash of Miles Davis
This week I take a look at Bruce Springsteen’s new album of soul covers, the latest release from North Carolina stalwarts Archers of Loaf, and more.
Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Bruce Springsteen-Only The Strong Survive
I ran into another soccer parent the other day at the store. One of those encounters takes a second to kick in, where you're both squinting and asking, "is..that..? "before quickly realizing that it's exactly who you think it is. Never mind that I spent most of the last eight weeks sitting at the same events with this person (both of our sons were on the same HS team). In this case, we were in the aisles, not the stands.
It was out of context.
Listening to Bruce Springsteen's Only The Strong Survive, I can't help but feel the same. I know it's Bruce Springsteen; it just feels…off. Part of that is probably down to seeing him in a suit. Part of that might be down to the E-Street band being nowhere in sight.
Either way, there's immense kayfabe energy surrounding this record.
I didn't have to be this way.
Springsteen's superpower has always been in his storytelling. Same with soul music. Given his love for the genre, this seems like an easy recipe on paper. But enthusiasm only gets you so far. You gotta have FEEL in the mix, too- for all the polished horns and slick production that came with Stax, Motown, etc., there was an equal dose of emotion too. Of grit. I don’t hear it here.
I went into the first spin mindful that my shoulder might be dropped because he's remaking songs I love- songs like Tyrone Davis' "Turn Back The Hands Of Time.” It's everything I love about soul music squished into ~three minutes. But even as ersatz as it ends up here, it was still the high point on the record for me.
His lyrics have told us countless stories about people and taken us on countless looks back to earlier (and often darker) times. After all, this was the man that almost 40 years ago told us, "I hope when I get old, I don't sit around thinking about it—but I probably will," in "Glory Days."
That's also more or less how he spent almost all of 2020's Letter To You, even though at least a few songs were written in the early 70s. It's also one of my favorite records of his, so I'm certainly not against any sentimentality. But there has to be some authenticity in the sauce.
That authenticity is missing in action on Only The Strong Survive. Instead of an homage or loving tribute, the record comes across as a vanity project—he's not singing about the glory days so much as he's singing the songs he loved during his glory days.
On the surface, that's fine; like nostalgia, Springsteen's at the point where he can do that if he wants. And he's in the rarefied air of artists that can pull it off.
Covering songs with long-held classic status is not easy, either (see above). Again, Springsteen is more than capable of making that work-these are all boxes we know The Boss can check. But except for a few spots here and there, he opted not to for some reason. I don't get it. A few small moves would've made this so much larger than it is.
Instead, we get an album that's pleasant enough. But so is karaoke night at the local Elks club.
Only The Strong Survive left me feeling slightly off; like the whole thing was out of context.
Below the jump for paid subscribers
Hella good Bay Area power pop
A look at the new Archers Of Loaf record
Inside NYC’s 80s Hardcore/Punk scene through the lens of Brooke Smith (aka Dr. Hahn on Grey’s Anatomy)
A New Order reissue
The usual dose of #musictwitter absurdity
All that & more. Check it out!
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