[DISCLAIMER: This is not a rickroll. He does make actual music, which may come as a shock to millions of oblivious rickroll victims.]
So I decided to try something different as tech blog upon tech blog was becoming monotonous for me to write up. I've decided to try something more musical, a review of Rick Astley's latest album which I've been listening to, dubbed "Beautiful Life". This is Rick Astley's second album since making an official comeback in 2016, with "50", and while not achieving the same success as his 80s superstardom Astley did reasonably well in the UK, charting at 7th place - just below Drake's Scorpion album at release (July 13).
So how has Rick Astley changed over the last 30 years? Well, he's changed a lot. His deep voice is still there, but it has a newfound hint of maturity and warmth that was missing in his colder 80s music. Beautiful Life was written and produced entirely by Astley in his home studio, which is quite an accomplishment. But how has he evolved since 50 - his 2016 album written and produced by himself as well - and what has he done differently? He studied 50 - which was in itself a jumble of experiments that I'll cover another time, if this blog series becomes a thing - and found that people liked his more upbeat songs than some of the soulful (gospel, even) tracks, and that even his older listeners liked to dance to his songs. So he made a less risky collection of pop tunes for Beautiful Life, and the end result is a low-risk album which is safe but, in parts, flat. (Remember to check the hyperlinks if you want to listen to the songs!)
The song opens with the catchy title track "Beautiful Life", a song which despite repeating nothing but 3 chords for nearly 4 minutes works quite well as a simple pop song. It's catchy and nothing too complex. It gets tiring after a while, but it's a decent song all things considered. The album then moves on to the even better "Chance to Dance", an upbeat dance song with a good bass line and a nice melody. Unfortunately, the album starts to waver from this point.
"She Makes Me" is a solid track in an album which suffers from very unvaried tracks throughout a good two-thirds of the album. It's original and upbeat as well, but it has its own identity and feel as a song. "Shivers" is another song which is catchy but fails to really capture anything or make any meaningful impact - not the last song on the album to do this. "Last Night on Earth" is a song that attempts to replicate She Makes Me and Chance to Dance's trick of starting slow and quiet and building into a loud chorus, but even Shivers did a similar trick and by this point the listener is not really interested as the chorus rolls past again and again.
Unfortunately, this middle section beginning with "Last Night on Earth" (or maybe even Shivers) is the entire album's weak link. These songs all try to - or perhaps unintentionally - be very similar, as after my first listen through the album a few of these tracks began to blend a bit as I struggled to remember these songs due to their indifferent sound. "Every Corner" is another song which may have had potential if it wasn't put in with the rest of the similar pack of songs, and comes off as a bit of a chore while listening to the album - there are two verses before the chorus repeats for the majority of the song, of which most lines are "Yes I love, I love you blind, in every corner of my mind" with a bridge that barely attempts to change the song. This is probably the part of the album where you're tempted to call time or take a break because they're all similar, but fortunately it picks up after this.
"I Need the Light" is very similar to "Every Corner" in terms of the verse/chorus placement but it sounds better for reasons I can't put my finger on. At this point, the album has an overdue attempt to shake things up. "Better Together", while nothing revolutionary, attempts to vary the album a bit with more of the same spoken verses, but the chorus has a more original approach switching between Rick's light-sounding backing vocals and his more grounded forefront vocals. It's not much, but it's a change of pace when the chorus takes up the majority of the song. From here on out are some of the best tracks of the album, however.
"Empty Heart" was a nice breath of fresh air for the album, with a slightly more inventive chorus, nicer verses with some soft crooner singing and a bridge with an interesting chord progression. This song is well placed as it brings your attention back for the last push of the album. "Rise Up" can feel a bit directionless at times but featured some nice, gentle low singing mixed with a soft, bright and higher voice. The bridge was actually quite nice as well, and you come out of the song feeling like it was a good chill song, if nothing special.
Next comes the best song of the album, in my opinion, with the inspiring and charged "Try" - one of his best songs since his return without a doubt. A strong vocal performance spanning two octaves (from the verse's low and solemn tone, going down to A2, and his fierce chorus reaching an impressive belted A4 - the second highest note anyone classed as a "baritone" can belt) with a strong instrumental backing track made Try a more engaging listen than arguably anything else on the album. Once I reached the second chorus and he begins to belt higher, I was almost taken aback; this was a note he had not hit in any album since 1993, and it was an excellent belted note with good strength, grit and control - completely out of the blue! Granted, as someone who does vocals, I am naturally paying more attention to the singing and range than an ordinary listener, but even without paying attention you could pick up on the emotionally charged singing in the song. A highlight of the album and a worthy single.
The album fades off with the interesting "The Good Old Days". It's an experimental song in a different key to anything else in the album (F major, whereas many songs in this album were in C major/A minor or G major) and has a unique feel to it which I thought was actually quite nice. It wasn't a breathtaking song, but it was definitely a more varied and different song and was a nice way to end the album. I just wish he had tried the same level of experimentation with the middle third of the album.
Beautiful Life: 6.5/10
Chance to Dance: 7/10
She Makes Me: 6.5/10
Last Night on Earth: 5.5/10
Every Corner: 5.5/10
I Need the Light: 6/10
Better Together: 6.5/10
Empty Heart: 8/10
Rise Up: 7/10
The Good Old Days: 7.5/10
Overall Rating: 6.5/10
Astley's latest album is a collection of songs which unfortunately don't try to be anything more than "another song" for about half of the album or so. While perhaps more enjoyable on their own, many tracks feel similar and there is an unavoidable feeling of repetition throughout the album up until Empty Heart. There are some good songs in here, but the fact that you have to sit through a collection of mediocre songs lowers the album's overall rating and dampens the potential of the better songs.
Thanks for reading this review, and if people like these, I might even do more. I just felt like doing something outside of tech would be beneficial. Let me know in the comments if you have anything to add about any of these songs, and if I made you discover that Rick Astley is not dead, then like this post for learning an invaluable piece of information. Thanks for reading!
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