Release Date 26.01.18
You have to admire Rick Springfield’s determination to keep pushing himself explore new musical avenues. A year away from 70, and over 35 years since his commercial heyday, he has followed the country influenced ‘Rocket Science’, with this, his first ever blues album.
However those expecting a gentle 12 bar canter through some blues standards will be in for a shock as the Australian-American uses the form to explore the relationship between God and the devil in a loose concept album form. His lyrics, as befitting a complex character, have always had a subversive or bitter twist to them to counteract the sunny melodies of his peak work, but this time the lyrics are dark, dense, involved and full of allegories- as if pitched somewhere between Tom Waits and Bob Dylan.
Opener ‘Land of the Blind’ is actually in musical terms the least bluesy on offer, a Tom Petty/hooters-esque slice of heartland rock, as if acting as a bridge to the musical change of gear. However there are plenty of more traditional blues influences in ‘Devil That You Don’t’ with its prominent harmonica and horns, and the 12 bar blues of ‘Judas Tree’.
At times the songs are unrecognisably Springfield, yet he has not lost his knack of writing a catchy tune, as evidenced by the likes of the title track, the dobro contributing towards a country vibe, and ‘Voodoo House’ where the blues influences are played down despite some rather twangy guitar playing.
The production throughout is solid and the musical backing is excellent – with long time guitarist Tim Pierce still among his musicians- none more so than on ‘Little Demon’, which has several changes of tempo as well as fine lead guitar work and seems to have been inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’.
However the lyrical obsessions rather overpower everything and distract attention away from any musical policy shift. ‘Jesus was an Atheist’ is a tongue in cheek alternative history which may offend a few in the heartland, ‘God Don’t Care’ does what it says on the tin and ‘Blues for the Disillusioned’ is another lyrically involved anti-religious rant set to a gentle swinging beat.
After a light hearted throwaway in the Chick Berry esque rock n roll of ‘Santa is An Anagram’ (of which you can probably guess), the album closes with ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ which over a country/bluegrass musical backdrop, extends to over ten minutes with more nihilistic lyrics which stretch to two closely printed pages in the CD booklet.
‘Lets celebrate the end of this wicked world’ is just one of the lyrics where you fear for his well being. All in all, a fascinating piece of work but a greater contrast with the likes of ‘Jessie’s Girl’, it would be harder to imagine.
Review by Andy Nathan
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Power Plays w/c 3 December 2018
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