November 2, 2016 Rick Astley – 50 (Album Review)
Catapulted to popularity in the ’80s Pop music scene in 1987 via his solid debut effort, the English Singer Rick Astley has become a music icon in his own right. This was well-deserved; after all, Astley was able to churn out a string of successful singles culled from his ’80s-released albums: “Never Gonna Give You Up,” “Whenever You Need Somebody,” “Together Forever,” “It Would Take a Strong Man,” “She Wants to Dance with Me,” “Take Me to Your Heart,” and “Hold Me in Your Arms.” To date, Astley has seven studio albums to his credit, from 1987’s Whenever You Need Somebody to the latest, new offering, 50.
Released in the U.K. on June 10, 2016; and in the USA on October 7, 50 finds Astley in a very confident and well-balanced musical excursion yet. It opens with the piano-led and slightly guitar-fuzzy Sophisti-Fuzz sentiments of “Keep Singing.” The mid-tempo mood carries on to the next track – the catchy and positively worded “Angels on My Side.” Following is a sure breather, the slow, starry ballad “Wish Away,” which finds Astley in his strong and proper crooner disposition; its classic and nostalgic laments blend perfectly with its modern touch of musicality. The initiated can imagine a mélange of Frank Sinatra (“The Way You Look Tonight”), Matt Monro (“If I Never Sing Another Song”), Robbie Williams (“Angels”), and Michael Bublé (“I Believe in You”). Then there is the eerie and loungy Rave/Trip-Hop, dim-lit sway of “This Old House,” which will fit on a playlist that includes Traci Lords’ “Fly,” Portishead’s “Roads,” and Moby’s “Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?”
The string-orchestrated Alternative Pop “Pieces” returns the mood to the overall sentimental tone of the album. Then, the upbeat, feel-good tune of “God Says” takes again the listener to the dance floor. The ensuing “I Like the Sun” is another lushly orchestrated stomper. “Somebody Loves Me” is certainly the album’s rocker, owing to its guitar-heavy shots and pounding rhythm. “Let It Rain” sounds like the sequel of the album opener, both in structural integrity and musicality. Another Alternative Pop stomper follows in the form of “Pray with Me.” The penultimate “Coming Home Tonight” will most likely be an instant favorite of fans who have loved Astley for his ’80s Pop; it has the right ingredients – catchy keyboard lines, cyclical guitar ad-lib, catchy vocal melody, four-to-the-floor drumbeat, and customary handclaps. Finally, 50 closes somberly with the soulful piano ballad “Let It Be Tonight,” where Astley’s seemingly pained voice soars slowly with nostalgia, ending the song with a spoken part that conjures images of falling autumn leaves.
From the Dance Pop sensibilities of his first albums through the more mature approach (yet still danceable in some corners) of the latter ones, Astley’s 50 is certainly a healthy mix of both aspects of his musicality and lyricism. The tunefulness, playfulness, and seriousness remain in harmony with one another. In simple words, Astley’s music has progressed beautifully and naturally; more so, his fuller voice and more contemplative lyrical sentiments have complemented his current status as a well-aged, iconic artist. CrypticRock gives 50, 4 out of 5 stars.