July 13, 2018 Rick Astley – Beautiful Life (Album Review)
From his boyish appeal and deep baritone voice in the ’80s Pop music scene, the English singer Rick Astley has really matured and developed into a more soulful and serious crooner. Not that his string of successful dancefloor stompers and sophisticated love songs from his ’80s-released albums were already sonic gems in themselves—such as “Never Gonna Give You Up,” “Whenever You Need Somebody,” “Together Forever,” “It Would Take a Strong Man,” “She Wants to Dance with Me,” and “Hold Me in Your Arms”—but his latter works have clearly shown that his vocal character aged finely like vintage wine.
To date, Astley has released seven studio albums, from 1987’s Whenever You Need Somebody to 2016’s 50. And now, in just a span of two years, the charismatic and still young-looking Astley is slated to unleash yet another batch of compelling tracks.
Slated for release on Friday, July 13, 2018, on BMG Records, Astley’s eighth record, titled Beautiful Life, is what may be described on the outset as a truly ripened reprisal of his penchant for Dance Pop tunes and Sophistipop ballads. However, after closer attention, the listener will be in for a surprise. While retaining its trademark sound, Astley’s music has also incorporated modern aspects of Funk and Pop Rock – befitting the interestingly hybrid Pop music of the current, so-called millennial generation.
Beautiful Life opens straightaway with the slick swagger of the title track, whose funky guitars and dancey bassline are enough to lure the listener to the waiting dancefloor and lose herself in its dizzying glitter and glamor. Stylistically, the ensuing “Chance to Dance” is something new for Astley; it is as engaging but is refreshing with its Tropical Pop sensibilities. And then the light dims a bit as the seasoned crooner turns sentimental with “She Makes Me”—a sure future classic in the making. Slow tempo but big-sounding, “Shivers” immediately returns the listener to her feet, with her head swaying and toes tapping in subtle grace.
Astley then revisits his Country/Folk Rock roots with the rustic “Last Night on Earth,” whose crystalline-bright acoustic-guitar plucks, charming orchestration, and Gospel-inspired melodies make it an album highlight. This is followed by the piano-oriented R-n-B-flavored ballad “Every Corner,” which harks to a similar mood of the previous album’s “Angels on My Side.” Still on piano mode but with a more dancey rhythm, “I Need the Light” pulsates, trickles, and gallops beautifully.
Another carrier song, “Better Together” is a change of style once again—a bit Broadway, a tad loungey, slightly progressive in Pop terms. After these couple of piano tracks, Beautiful Life then reverts to the beauty of the acoustic guitar, as “Empty Heart” strums its way into the listener’s yearning heart. The ambience and feelings of emptiness further transports the listener to a state of contemplation with the folky and percussive air of “Rise Up.”
The penultimate track, “Try” starts with a simple piano line then bursts into a heartbeat-racing anthem—ready to transcend a million lovers into quiet introspection, to discover love one again and affirm its sincerity. Finally, Astley aptly closes his Beautiful Life with “The Good Old Days” – another impassioned piano song, this time with a faint theatrical flare and throwback lyrical sentiment.
Overall, Beautiful Life, like its immediate predecessor, is a collection of stylistically diverse tracks whose tunefulness, playfulness, and seriousness remain in harmony with one another—an indication that the music of Astley has really progressed beautifully and naturally, not to mention his voice that has become much more assured, confident, and comforting than it already was, to begin with. CrypticRock gives Beautiful Life 4 out of 5 stars.