At the tail-end of 2012, Rick Springfield released the surprisingly chunky ‘Songs For The End of The World’, a near faultless collection of tunes that proved the Australian singer-songwriter was still capable of delivering the goods after four decades and change into his career. In the first quarter of 2016, he made a welcome return with ‘Rocket Science’, an album which, perhaps, although stylistically more fitting for a performer in his mid sixties, still has plenty of heart and could show many younger musicians a thing or twelve.
It’s opening track, ‘Light This Party Up’ presents the more feel-good side of Springfield’s work, but not necessarily in the best way. The band are solid and a country twang in the lead guitar department is very much a high point, but the gang vocals and crowd rousing stance often makes this feel like a Nickelback cast-off than anything recorded by the man who gave us classics in ‘Jessie’s Girl’, ‘Living In Oz’ and ‘Honeymoon In Beirut’ in the 80s. In short, although it comes with a punch and an easily recognisable hook line, it just tries that little bit too hard in the “crowd pleasing” department. The rousing style makes it the ideal opener, but there’s no doubting it’s one of ‘Rocket Science’s weaker offerings. From wobbly beginnings, things improve very quickly, as the semi-acoustic and slightly retro sounding ‘Down’ showcases a far stronger melody. Showing Springfield to still be a great vocalist, this number is all about that voice: harmonies abound, a big chorus and a sharp rhythm; this number is a definite cross between material from Danny Tate’s mid-nineties masterpiece ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ and new country. It’s all delivered with a bigger punch than most country, but the influence is there…and to highlight this, there’s even a touch of steel guitar to add colour.
Mandolins and fiddles aplenty make strong features on ‘Pay It Forward’, a superb and rather fun pop-rocker that occasionally sounds like one of the Indigo Girls’ less earnest affairs. An instant stand-out, the whole band appear to be bouncing from each other on an arrangement that’s almost guaranteed to lift the mood, while Rick is in great voice – very occasionally sounding no different to his 1980s younger self. Beneath the country elements, it’s possible here – more so than on some other tracks – to hear plenty of influence from Springfield’s musical past, and while the end results are fairly busy, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable tune. These country-pop leanings suit Springfield very well indeed…and judging by ‘Let Me In’, he’s more than aware of the fact. On this number, against a gated snare drum, a bass pumps a solid rhythm and he mid-pace allows Rick plenty of room to emote. A tune that’s chock-full of melody, it eventually blooms into a pop/rock piece with a cracking solo (and even boasting a mid-section that harks back to the performer’s pop roots). It’s surprisingly well-rounded, but the bulk of the number still has a Nashville heart, with acoustic guitars supplementing those electric elements and plenty of steel.
With plenty of drive, ‘The Best Damn Thing’ is a poppy affair that has a vocal meter that’s unmistakably Springfield-esque and a big AOR chorus but, like so much of the material here, has a send off that’s more new country than ‘Working Class Dog’, while ‘I Wish I Had a Concrete Heart’ mixes acoustic guitars, drum machines and backwards loops to create something unexpected. Thankfully, the chorus dispenses with all of this and breaks into classic, radio friendly harmonies. Although a bit of a mish-mash, it shows Springfield is more than capable of moving with the times, and by the track’s climax – which shows far more concern with melody – it finds its groove and proves ten times more enjoyable than first it seems. ‘Miss Mayhem’, meanwhile, stokes up the dobros with their ringing tones during verses that evoke a backporch stomp, before the band launches into a hard rock chorus that has plenty of crunch. Again, there’s something lurking beneath the surface that owes more to ‘Rockstar’ by Nickelback and ‘God & Guns’ era Lynyrd Skynyrd than any of Rick’s past, but it’s all great stuff…and a bang up production job really brings out the harder edge.
With an unsubtle melody that hints at ‘Dixie’ and a lyric referencing a “call to arms” and a “red white and blue reveille”, ‘All Hands on Deck’ is anything but subtle and, to be honest, after a couple of spins becomes quite annoying with its overt country throwbacks – it’s easily the album’s worst track, despite being well arranged – but, thankfully, this irritation is counterbalanced by the absolutely superb ‘Earth To Angel’, nestled at the end of the album. Yes, once again, there are more than enough country elements within this closing statement, but an almost funky bassline gives everything a huge buoyancy and a killer chorus gets under the skin in record time. The expected melodic rock guitar solo may have been replaced with (even more) steels, but the driving qualities are from the same heart that pumps the finest melodic rock – and the melodies are terrific. Rick asks that “we’ll all have a good time” and while he doesn’t always get it right on this long player, this tune is more than happy to assist in achieving that goal.
‘Rocket Science’ is a rather unexpected turn. There’s pop and rock within this musical menagerie – it’s hard to believe that Rick would leave that behind, after all – but overall, this is a rather different animal to ‘Songs For The End of the World‘, or even the often overlooked ‘Karma’. The opening track really isn’t very good at all and while the country elements are, at first, perhaps, a little disorienting, at least eight of the thirteen tracks are of a great standard with some pretty infectious hooks. Above all else, Rick seems to believe in the material and gives most of it his own distinct charm…and that alone is just about good enough. This might never be your favourite Rick Springfield album, but stick with it – it’s worth it in the end.