Richard Marx – Songwriter (Album Review)

Richard Marx. His name alone conjures extraordinary melodies embedded within unparalleled songwriting, all coupled with heartfelt sincerity and authenticity. An award-winning singer, songwriter, musician, and author, he burst onto the Pop/Rock charts to embrace the hearts of every ‘80s child and has continued to make magic ever since. So, it is really no shock that his latest release, Songwriter—scheduled to arrive on Friday, September 30, 2022, thanks to Shelter Records—hones in on his ability to mold gemstones across multiple genres.

Synonymous with heartfelt, passionate crooning and beautiful piano work, the Grammy Award-winner won our hearts with the likes of “Right Here Waiting,” “Now and Forever,” “Hazard,” and “Dance with My Father.” But it was after establishing himself as a songwriter for other artists that Marx would make his eponymous debut in 1987. A natural, he would go on to sell upwards of 30 million albums worldwide, author a No. 1 single in each of the last four decades, and make history as the only male artist whose first seven singles reached the Top 5 on the Billboard charts. All this and he has written hits for numerous artists, including Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion, NSYNC, and Josh Groban.

To celebrate his 35th anniversary as a recording artist, as well as his 38th as a professional songwriter, Marx opted to delve into a passion project. Riding on the coattails of a flurry of recent activity, including 2020’s Limitless and 2021’s best-selling memoir, Stories to Tell (whose paperback edition just became available in July), his epic 13th collection comes in the form of Songwriter.

The 20-track album sees the illustrious creator collaborating with Chris Daughtry, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, Burt Bacharach, and many more. Spanning four ‘genres’—Pop, Rock, Country, and Ballads—each section of the collection offers five tracks that highlight Marx’s talents within that realm. And it’s truly no great surprise that he opts to kick off the collection by delving into Pop. (Though, somewhat shockingly, some of his finest offerings appear in the Country category!)

It all begins with the album’s first single/video, “Same Heartbreak, Different Day.” Melancholic Pop that sounds like a daydream, it opens the gates for the bold neon groove of “Only a Memory.” Considering the catchy “Moscow Calling,” with its electronic backbone, and the lyric-driven “Believe in Me,” it’s hard to pick a favorite in this particular set as they are all solidly enjoyable additions.

But the rockers give their predecessors a run for their cryptocurrency. “Shame on You” kicks it all off with attitude, though it’s “Just Go” that harnesses the ‘classic’ Marx feels. Despite this, it is “One More Yesterday,” written by the three musketeers—Marx, Chris Daughtry, and Lifehouse’s Jason Wade— that delivers one of the album’s clear highlights. Still, it would be hard to ignore “Not Alone,” with its guitars a-blazin’ as it addresses mental health and the darkness that ekes into all of us from time to time. Everybody needs someone sometimes, right? So just remember: Marx is always right here waiting for you!

All joking aside, it just might be the Country selections that tip the balance, dishing up some of the album’s most satisfying moments. Like the dirty slide of “Everything I’ve Got,” one of the best vocal performances here, as well as “One Day Longer,” co-written with the one-and-only Nashville dingo, Keith Urban. Meanwhile, the undeniable beat of “Breaking My Heart” comes to us from the combined forces of Marx, Darius Rucker, and former Evanescence member David Hodges, before the dim lights of a dive bar provide the scenery for “Misery Loves Company,” whose entire aura heavily evokes thoughts of Country crooners Lady A.

However, as tempting as one will find the Pop, Rock, and Country buffet, it is the Ballads section of Songwriter that is the coup de grâce of Marx’s talents. Fraught with intimacy, “Always,” which was co-written alongside the legendary Burt Bacharach, is a piano and vocal sensation that twins flawlessly with the glorious “Still in My Heart.” Orchestral magic accompanies our hero and his golden piano for the exquisite “As If We’ll Never Love Again” before the fairytale crash lands in “Never After.” Ultimately, the entire collection concludes with “Maybe,” the wisdom, peace, and unconditional love born of trial, error, and experience.

As bursting with content as Songwriter is, it would still be remiss not to point out that some of its finest material comes to us from Marx as a solo writer. Tracks like “Moscow Calling,” “Just Go,” “Everything I’ve Got,” and “Maybe” are all self-authored vehicles. But the album is also a testament to the creative bonds within the Marx family. Throughout, the father is proud to share writing credits with two of his sons, Lucas (“Same Heartbreak, Different Day,” “Believe in Me”) and Jesse (“Shame on You,” “Not Alone”). Both singer-songwriter-producers in their own right, Jesse recently released his debut EP under the band name Mark This Hour.

Glowing positives aside, Songwriter does have a lengthy track listing. Though its creator was careful not to deliver 20 nine-minute-long examples of his musical prowess, it could easily be a bit overwhelming. And yet it’s not. A collection of love, loss, understanding, and acceptance in the face of life’s trivialities, Songwriter crosses genres fluidly, focusing on that one universal trait found in all of the best music: authenticity. So, forget about hearing five Extreme Metal selections on Songwriter II, because that just wouldn’t be genuine! For this, Cryptic Rock gives Songwriter 5 out of 5 stars.

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