Rick Springfield has never made the same album twice. Take a look back through his career, even as far back as his 1971 debut Beginnings, he has changed his sound continually along the way. There have been albums with a similar musical theme running through them, but never two records quite the same.
In recent years Rick has been more eclectic than ever. From the various sessions that formed the melodic introspect of Karma; to the straight up aggression and angst of Shock Denial Anger Acceptance; to the modern rock theme of the uptempo and personal Venus In Overdrive and Songs For The End Of The World albums – there’s always something new to digest. In the same way that Karma followed the Sahara Snow compilation; Rick follows last year’s Stripped release with his brand new 18th studio album.
Rick continues his career renaissance with Rocket Science, an album that for me completes the trilogy of releases co-written with bassist Matt Bissonette. It really does continue the sound and style encompassed in Venus and Songs, albeit with a completely new twist. A country twist.
That word frightens some, but it shouldn’t. Any long time Rick fan will already be comfortable with the notion as it has appeared as a musical influence before in the 70s, again in the 80s (What Kind Of Fool Am I) and even in the 90s with Karma (a very similar acoustic base used on several tracks).
And anyone that enjoyed the utterly brilliant Songs or Venus albums will find instant familiarity in Rocket Science, as the same pop base has been used with the songwriting. Essentially those two records are modern pop albums with heavier guitars. Rocket Science is the exact same premise, just with a lighter, breezier feel and heavier emphasis on country influences.
It threw me at first, it really did. But after 3 or 4 listens it just sounded like Rick. Like it was something he’s been doing all along. In fact it is a joy to hear Rick and Matt’s songs over the bed of instrumentation here, which includes the banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle and violin.
Rocket Science features some of the most unbelievably catchy songs of Rick’s career. It’s quite simply one hook after another from start to finish. The dressing may be different, but the main course is hit songs.
And the production and especially the mix on this album is sensational. It’s no easy feat to balance the many layers a Rick Springfield album always offers into a listenable package, but to go and add so many new instruments and make them all audible within the songs is, frankly, astonishing. Credit there goes to Nashville pro Justin Niebank, who Rick brought in for his expertise in working with the acoustic instruments.
The other immediately obvious aspect of the new album is the lyrical and music positivity. In Rick’s own words, he thought it time to stop ‘pissing and moaning’, which I think is an apt description of what this album doesn’t do. It really is so damn positive and the songs really give off that ‘up’ vibe. Some of the songs on here are simply some of the catchiest, happiest songs of Rick’s career.
And awesome to see longtime associates Tim Pierce and Jeff Silverman amongst the album credits.
Track by Track:
Light This Party Up is exactly what it sounds like – a concert anthem that’s just begging to be played loud. The title sounds country and the song is indeed that – but one of the more hard rocking country tracks I’ve heard and the steel guitar is turned to 11. It rocks along at a terrific pace and is the album’s most obviously simplistic lyric.
Down on the other hand is a wonderful complex, feel good lyric that for me has the exact same impact as track 2 on both Venus (I’ll Miss That Someday) and Songs (Our Ship’s Sinking). An uptempo anthem that has a lot of instrumentation going on under the vocal (as do all tracks), with the acoustic instruments overridden by electric ones in this instance. Another Rick classic.
That One is one of the stronger country themed tracks here, but it also features some modern production effects and something that Rick hasn’t done, that is, change his vocal delivery. So this is basically a Karma style mid-tempo modern pop song that is utterly addictive.
The chorus is impossible not to like and the lyrics are again personal and encouraging. The twang of steel guitar becomes less noticeable and sinks in as part of Rick’s natural sound.
The Best Damn Thing is another wonderful lyric wrapped in a feel good uptempo pop/country/rocker with another unforgettable singalong chorus. Rick’s regular guitar sound mixes with mandolins and slide guitar seamlessly and while it’s one of the most obvious country tunes here, the fast moving tempo and catchiness is impossible to deny. It’s now one of my very favourites. Can you hear the reference to What Kind Of Fool Am I?
There’s always a left turn within a Rick album and there’s a few on this album. Miss Mayhem is one and the most stark. Starting with a banjo riff (yes!) over a swapy vocal, it then turns heavy with a bluesy hard driving riff and a chorus not like any other on the album. A good dose of guitar for those who might be craving such. A late-song vocal bridge is not unlike something from Sahara Snow.
Pay It Forward is pop perfection. Unbelievably catchy and driven by steel guitar, banjos and violins, the country themed pop rocker is brilliant. Impossible not to sing along to, this tune could be on pop or country radio alongside any modern artist. It reminds me heavily of The Hooters when they take on that Celtic sound so well.
Found is about as country as it gets. The acoustic based ballad is backed with every kind of Nashville instrument and overtone, with fiddle and violins at the forefront. But the vocal is so honest and pure; plus there’s another impossibly catchy hook. The song is every bit as essential as any other track here. It’s not a slow ballad by at stretch and features a full rounded chorus.
Crowded Solitude is another track that’s driven by country instruments and soul. More inspiring lyrics and a singalong barn dance style chorus makes for yet another very catchy track, even if it might be quite removed from what fans of a rockier Rick Springfield might wish for. For those that have liked the album so far, there’s no dip in quality here.
Let Me In is the re-recording of a bonus track from the last album. Another great example of how the style from Songs bleeds into Rock Science. This song is perfect for the format in play here. Rick’s vocal is warmer and richer and the added country influences make this another sure fire hit single given half the chance.
We talk about left turns on Rick albums all the time. All Hands On Deck is not only a left turn, it’s a complete U-turn from the middle lane on a crowded freeway.
This is simple extraordinary song and one of Rick’s fastest moving and catchiest songs ever. It is unlike anything he has ever recorded before. Starting with a slow steel guitar intro and vocal, the song explodes into this crazy Celtic stomp that reminds me of an 18th Century sea shanty. It’s The Hooters meets Captain Pugwash with a gallon of rum thrown in. Brilliant.
We Connect is a song that will sound much more familiar to Rick fans. This is almost free of any country instrumentation. Rather it is a darker, heavier and moodier song that sounds like it could easily have come straight from Songs For The End Of The World. It’s another very fine addition to the folder of Rick angst songs and I’m sure will be a favourite for many. Wonderful haunting lyrics too.
(I Wish I Has A) Concrete Heart takes things back on message with a breezy acoustic driven pop/rock song with some modern production loops and personal lyrics. The chorus bursts to life with another instantly likeable hook. It’s just another brilliant song that follows a string of other brilliant songs.
Earth To Angel is the perfect way to close this amazing album. A breezy pop/country song with a more rocking chorus (catchy as always) that combines the influences of this album in a feel good song that again reminds me of The Hooters.
Unfortunately the only bonus track of the several listed available that I can comment on is the one with the Japanese version of the album. Jessie’s Girl (2016) is nothing like what I anticipated. It’s a complete reimagining of the song, with new bridge harmonies and a completely new musical bed that brings the song into a darker, modern realm, with increased programming and a huge new hook to really invigorate this old classic. Makes me wonder what Rick could do with some of his other 80s classics. Next album perhaps?
And after 45 minutes (49 with the bonus track) the ride is over. It may be a hayride, but it’s a hayride with electric guitars, modern rock production, a million dollar mix and 13 of the catchiest songs you’ll hear from any one artist on one album.
I know what some will be thinking. If this is such a great album, surely I would be leaning towards other modern country artists to listen to. But no… It’s not the country style of this record that makes it great – it’s Rick’s lyrics, his vocal nuances and the mix of his recent style with something new. It all comes together to make a catchy as hell album whose songs would work in any style.
I can’t understate the brilliance of these songs. The style might not suit everyone, but I have to think that this could be the best produced album of Rick’s career. Everything is just packed in so brilliantly, with all instruments clearly audible and Rick’s vocal performance is one of a 30 year old.
The country influences might turn some away, but they will be the folks missing out. I hadn’t planned a perfect score, but over the last 8 weeks I haven’t stopped playing this. Just brilliant.