In the late 80’s I felt abandoned by music, particularly by Rick Springfield. He had been my constant musical companion since I was 9 years old and by the time I graduated high school, I had nearly worn off the grooves to all of my Rick Springfield albums with nothing new on the horizon. The pop music of the 80s was being replaced by the grunge rock of the 90s and I hated it. It didn’t speak to me at all. Sure there were a few artists out there that kept me occupied – Richard Marx and The Nelsons were amongst my favorites but I really missed Rick and I really missed his sound and the way the music made me feel.
My mother was a country music fan. I was pretty familiar with country music having been to a few concerts with her and hearing the music she listened to. And so by the mid-90s I was a country music girl. Gone were the days of Birds of Paradise Flying Up Your Nose (don’t know what I am talking about? Check out that Little Jimmy Dickin’s video to the left). Country music had shifted and the pop/rock that I had enjoyed was being played on country radio. And I was all in. I wore Wranglers and a cowboy hat. I went line dancing. I moved to Nashville! And it was AWESOME. So I am not in the least put off by country music – even the old stuff – the REAL country music from legends like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn don’t send me running into the hills but I can understand why some people would not like the genre. But if you study music, you’ll learn there are influences everywhere. Elvis was influenced by the rhythm & blues and soul music of the deep south during a time when segregation was a regular thing. He incorporated the sound and the moves he learned from his African American brothers & sisters in music into his own sound and they called it Rock ‘n Roll. Shocking! I know that things that I do, albeit it’s not music, are influenced by the things I have learned in my life and by the people I have encountered. Why would Rick Springfield and his latest batch of music be any different?
Like many other Rick Springfield fans, I have been getting songs from his new album Rocket Science piece meal for weeks – first with Light this Party Up, Down and then followed up with Let Me In and Miss Mayhem. It has been fascinating to hear the reactions from other fans who are appalled by the “turn towards country” Rick has taken with this new CD. AS IF this is something new for Rick (it’s NOT. Don’t believe me? Speak to the Sky anyone? Ordinary Girl? I could go on…). If you go through his musical catalogue you will find country, blues, folk, grunge, pop and rock influences through out. I can easily argue that over the span of his 4+ decades making music, he has dipped his toes into many a musical genre pool and hasn’t sucked at it! So throwing in a little bit of country/blues into his new music isn’t something that should come as a shock. Fans who take great offense to the slightest bit of twang, needn’t feel as if Rick has deliberately done this to tick them off. He has done what any other ARTIST would do. He has expressed himself. He has taken over 40 years of exposure to all these genres and he’s mushed them all together into a masterpiece (my opinion) that will have so-called long time fans and one dimensional listeners who think Jessie’s Girl was his only song, scratching their heads. But the astute and discerning fan will know that Rick’s artistry is not held captive by one musical genre alone. The appreciative fan will recognize that Rick makes his music HIS way because it stirs something within himself, not because a record label or radio station or fan dictates how his music should sound. A musician who does that, in my opinion, is not an artist but a tool.
Now… on to the tracks of the CD….
LIGHT THIS PARTY UP – if this isn’t a pop/rock party anthem, then I don’t know what is. Rick has opened his shows for several months now with this song and it sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the show. It’s fun. And it’s NOT country.
DOWN – co-written with Jay DeMarcus from the country group Rascal Flatts, the song is bound to have some contemporary country flare and it does. It could get airplay on country radio IF country radio would allow it. I used to work in the business for a short period of time. Country radio is fickle and like all other radio it’s political. In this day and age of digital music, I don’t even listen to radio anymore. I’d be shocked if they ever played it because radio will say that Rick Springfield isn’t country enough yet look at cross-over artists like Taylor Swift. It can be done. That being said, however, despite its having some modern day country(ish) sound, this song, again is NOT country. But even if it were, it’d be a lovely song just the same. What beautiful words. What a catchy hook. It is the cause of many of my most recent earworms. I love “Down“.
THAT ONE – Another cause of an earworm for sure with all the elements of an angsty love song – about that one who you thought was the one and you find out that you weren’t ever her one. Like with many of the songs on this album, there is an element of country influence if you listen carefully for it but the melody and message are what take center stage here. This one is a favorite for sure.
THE BEST DAMN THING – This one isn’t country either…not one bit unless you consider a tiny bit of steel guitar country. It’s got some driving rhythm but isn’t quite rock either – The Best Damn Thing is a solid pop song.
MISS MAYHEM – ok so the morning they previewed this song, I woke up with my phone blowing up with comments about banjos and twang and what was he thinking?! I looked up the song and it started to play and I felt the corners of my mouth begin to turn UP. By the time the chorus hit, I was full on laughter not because the song was ridiculously using banjos (it wasn’t. That’s a slide guitar that he’s playing) and twangy country (It’s not. That’s blues… perhaps a bit Rock-a-billy…) but because Rick Springfield had successfully morphed blues & country sounding verses with an edgy rock ‘n roll chorus & hook. This is brilliant songwriting and he sings the crap out of these lyrics – with bluesy soul and then falsettos –it’s freakin’ cool! But not if you’ve vowed to loathe all things country music or anything remotely sounding like banjo music for all of eternity. Hey, it’s not banjo. It’s slide guitar.. you know that silver guitar he whips out during his Stripped Down shows, when you go “Ooh! Shiny!” and he tells that funny story about playing in a blues band with a bunch of scary ex-cons so he sings “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and you thought “THIS IS FREAKIN’ AWESOME!” Yeah, that guitar. Same one and you know what? This song is even MORE freakin’ awesome than ” Rollin’ and Tumblin’” and that one is pretty great. If you hate this one, you’re missing the point completely.
PAY IT FORWARD – Opening with some fiddle, this one may have people with adverse reactions to country music hitting the forward button. But my advice is to give it a chance. Because aside from the fiddle, that is where the country comparison ends. The message of the song is super positive & the melody is catchy and for those reasons, I really like it. And maybe it’s the mom in me looking for more positive messaging in music not only for my daughter but for myself too. We live in a pretty selfish world these days. Hearing this kind of message is worth it.
FOUND – Yep. Found begins with and sustains the makings of a contemporary country LOVE song. You won’t find lyrics about tractors, pick up trucks or moonshine in this song, though because like many of Rick’s love songs, the words make you wish he had written it about you. It’s very pretty.
CROWDED SOLITUDE – More fiddle! Listen carefully and there are some words sung with an accent in Crowded Solitude. This is another song that begins with some country influenced accompaniment that segues into an upbeat anthem about being thankful and finding ways for inner peace amongst the chaos we live in. A bit deep and if you don’t want to think about all that, this is catchy and would be a fun sing – a- long.
LET ME IN – Originally found on the Best Buy version of Songs for the End of the World (the blue one), this song was a DEMO VERSION that according to published interviews with Rick, he has said wasn’t ever “finished”. But he graciously included it as a bonus track on one of the four different versions of the album (Smart marketing. I bought into it. I admit it). This song seems to have created just as much dismay amongst many in the Rick Springfield Fan Kingdom as “Miss Mayhem”. “Why did he change it?” “I liked the other version better!” Ok… first, he didn’t change it. He COMPLETED IT. He, himself said it wasn’t done. He made adjustments to the lyrics. He changed the arrangement and as the artist, it was within his right to do so. I would think he wouldn’t have included it (1) unless he wasn’t pleased with how it turned out and (2) if it sounded EXACTLY the same as what was released on the last album. That would be dumb. As for liking the other version better? Good. Listen to that one. You’ll always have the demo version. Quit whining. See, I love the song “You and Me” (my favorite song from Songs From the End of the World) but I like the album version better than the live acoustic version. But because he chooses to sing it a different way live, doesn’t mean I will stop going to his live shows. I would miss out on so many great things if I did that. Shunning this record because you don’t approve of the treatment of the music makes about the same sort of sense.
ALL HANDS ON DECK – Ok, so All Hands on Deck had even ME scratching my head at first. I expected at any moment for Braveheart to come riding in on his steed screaming “THEY’LL NEVER TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOM!” But, then I started to imagine Rick performing this in full Irish regalia which could be super exciting being in the front row when he’s playing guitar in a kilt! Tell me you don’t have that visual in your head now! All kidding aside, is this a radio song? No. Will it end up on your playlist rotation? Maybe not. But when you read why Rick likes this song and it comes from his deep love of America and the patriotism he feels, at least for me, I can’t argue with that. I’m ready for the 4th of July – I’d be honored to sing this with him (with my microphone turned OFF of course).
WE CONNECT – The song begins and you may mistake the song for One Passenger from Venus in Overdrive. We Connect begins similarly with a driving rhythm. It’s pretty good but I prefer others on the album more.
(I WISH I HAD A) CONCRETE HEART – Concrete Heart is a solid pop song with great harmonies and a catchy hook. I like it more each time I hear it but like the previous song, I have my other favorites.
EARTH TO ANGEL – Bagpipes! Riverdance anyone? Ok, I couldn’t help that. But now that Rick has thrown bagpipes into the mix I must insist that we get them on stage and SOON because this girl thinks bagpipes are hot. No, really! Put that boy in a kilt and I’ll have my camera ready in the front row. 😉 So, we have some Celtic sounds mixed in with some country, mixed in with pop and a bit of rock ‘n roll. What’s going on here? Well, for me, it’s a whole lot of fun. Why do all the albums have to sound the same anyway? Earth to Angel has a little bit of everything going for it. Maybe that is just too confusing for some? Not me. Bring on the bagpipes!
Bottom Line…. Will everyone love this album? No, of course not. You just can’t make everyone happy. But I don’t think making music is about making others happy but rather answering a need within yourself. There are reasons why he chose the songs he did and why the arrangements are the way they are. I, for one, am just thrilled that I am no longer in that musical black hole that I was in 2 decades ago. I will absolutely and GLADLY take this “little bit country and little bit rock ‘n roll” Rick Springfield any day. And if he wants to start wearing butt-less chaps on stage, I won’t complain about that either! 😉