Album review: Rick Springfield's 'Songs for the End of the World'
Rick Springfield is as much a part of the '80s as neon colors, hairspray and tight designer jeans. But forgive Rick if -- musically at least -- he's ready to explore more contemporary sounds in his latest projects. Songs for the End of the World actually came out in late 2012, but I'm just listening to it now. Thank god, because some of its darkness would have seemed almost overwhelming during the holiday/apocalypse season.
If you're looking for the pop candiness of You Better Love Somebody or Affair of the Heart, it's not here. (You can still hear it live though this Thursday at Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa when Rick plays live.) On his latest album, Rick definitely is letting his guitar and lyrics become the therapist he seems to crave. Springfield remains one of the best live entertainers of his generation -- maybe the top dog -- so if he wants to explore darker closets on studio albums, I'm not going to discourage him one bit. Especially when the result is a project I enjoy as much as this one.
Here's a song-by-song review of the album, written as I listened to it.
WIDE AWAKE: "So nice to meet you. So good to see your friendly face" I could easily see this being a good opening song for his tour. It's like being jettisoned out of a cannon. And it sounds like it belongs on an American Pie soundtrack (and I mean that in a good way.) Fuzzy guitars thrashing back and forth. Lyrics that sound like they were written when he was 36 instead of 63. "The future’s bright and lined with light and I am free to be a kid again." Looks like the Rickster isn't content to pursue spots on the adult contemporary charts, like other '80s colleagues.
OUR SHIP SINKING: Ah, here's the '80s sound we normally associate with our friend. And again, I mean that in a good way. The ships/seas/water metaphors are plentiful. "Bruised sky I can hear the thunder. These chains would have dragged me under. It’s a wonder I’m not laying face down in the water." This tune would have been a chart-climber back in our day.
I HATE MYSELF: Every time I've interviewed Rick, he tells me he's more of a half-glass-empty kinda guy. And you really feel his darker edges in his newer material. "Damn the danger, the scandal too. Burning down, I’m black and blue. I hate myself. But I want you." Retro-guitar licks meet modern-day self-loathing. Somebody page Dr. Noah Drake.
YOU AND ME: If you were still allowed Bics in concert venues, this is the time to flick it. I love a good power ballad; this one feels like it could have been co-written by the likes of Cheap Trick. "You and me will get it done eventually. When all the world will burn. To the point of no return. I know it’s true. I've found it all comes down to you." There's a lot to like on this album so far. I'd be happy to hear any of these tunes live.
GABRIEL: Acoustic guitar! I almost had to adjust my headphones, but it's welcome and timely insertion for such a tune. "In the harshest winds you took me in and set me on my feet. Through the burning sand you held my hand and saved me from the heat." Here, Rick's voice is at its purest and most unmanipulated.
A SIGN OF LIFE: It's amazing to me how Rick is cranking out respectable tune again and again on this album. If you're a fan of his beyond his '80s hits, that's probably not a surprise. If you stick to the familiar hits of youth, Sign of Life is a satisfying addition. "Beam down through the radiation. A cold earth is what you’ll find. That this world is your destination. A close encounter with another kind."
MY LAST HEARTBEAT: There are times during this album where you'd swear that Rick wants nothing more than to have been a rock star during the '90s instead of the '80s. Maybe it's the influence of the younger musicians surrounding him. This tune is a little too crunchy for me, but I could see those of the slacker generation jamming to it. Life's too short for pale skin, patchy facial hair and ill-fitting jeans.
JOSHUA: Ah, that's better. Eighties Rick checks back in with Joshua. "Touch the sky, dream of fire looking through your tiger’s eye. You can turn this thing around. Make no mistake, this is your battleground."
LOVE SCREWS ME UP: Angry/sad Rick is back. I was starting to worry. This is the first "na-na" song of the album. But I still enjoy it, plus Rick gets a little naughty in the lyrics. "All the hippies, magazines and TV keep selling true love like it really existed. And I want to drink from their picture perfect loving cup but I f--- it up."
I FOUND YOU: Are those pianos and synth I hear in the background? Bring me back the Rick Springfield I know and love. There are plenty more rain, storm, hurricane metaphors here. Actually, I really this one. Here we are, 11 songs into the album, and there aren't any throw-aways. This album is a keeper.
DEPRAVITY: Okay, this could have been a Pearl Jam B-side. Whether or not that's a good thing depends on your feelings toward the early '90s sound.
ONE WAY STREET: Maybe we should have started questioning Rick's dark moods after Jessie's Girl. Actually, read his autobiography and he's pretty honest about the events and thoughts that have shaped his life and music. By the time we finish this album with One Way Street, I think we get a good approximation of where Rick is now: Still tortured, still talented, and still not done making excellent music.