Rick Astley was known in the 80s for his almost impossibly sonorous voice, rich and full, and incredible considering at the height of his fame in those days, he was only in his early 20s. He retired in 1993 to devote time to his family, but returned to musical life in 2001. Rick hasn’t looked back since, with his album, ’50’, released in 2016, hitting the top spot on the official UK album charts.
His latest release, ‘Beautiful Life’, released earlier this month, could as easily have been named ‘Beautiful Album’. In fact, we had difficulty reviewing it, because, rather than writing down our thoughts, we just kept listening. Eventually we managed to put it down on paper however.
‘Beautiful Life’ is an album all about love, and specifically the love Astley has for his wife, Lene. He’s in a very good place these days, and the record illustrates this, with a confidence that’s well deserved.
Opening with the title track, we’re struck by how different Rick’s voice sounds. Gone are the deep tones, replaced with a slightly more accessible production. The track has the merest hint of disco about it, and it segues nicely into ‘Chance To Dance’, with its upbeat, tropical tempo.
Track three, ‘She Makes Me’, is possibly our favourite on an album where every song is a winner. A love song, it’s here we first really get into Rick’s new sound. There’s still some of the original timbre, but overall his sound has very pleasingly mellowed.
‘Last Night On Earth’ has a mellow, laid back guitar-led sound, and some well crafted lyrics, such as, ‘Can’t see the wood for the plastic trees’. Astley has written, produced, and played on all twelve tracks, which he recorded in his home studio. All over it’s a lyrically clever album, that definitely deserves a chance from anyone who thinks he was a mere creation of Stock Aitken and Waterman. This is proven again in ‘Every Corner’, the halfway point of the album, where Astley’s voice is rich, powerful, and a near return to the “blue eyed soul” of his youth.
‘I Need The Light’ is a gospel-infused songs, and it’s at this point in my review that I realised I’d stopped writing about the tracks and was lost instead in listening. ‘Better Together’ is a lyrically simple track but the words are nonetheless perfectly put together. There’s some slightly twee parts (“Feels like I’ve been up for days/I’ve been in a purple haze”) but Rick is in fine voice, and the falsetto parts are very appealing.
‘Empty Heart’ feels like an appeal to those who loved the “old” Rick to come back and listen to him yet again – it contains a beautiful bridge, “So what do I give and what do you get/I don’t think love is dead just yet/I’m holding on, I’m hanging on/I know that I can be so strong for you, yeah you” that would soften (and fill) the coldest of stone hearts. It certainly would have won me over if I hadn’t already been sold on Rick from the first track.
‘Rise Up’ sees Rick’s voice take on two different levels: a nice deep one, and his lighter, near falsetto tone. His vocals are immense, and we see that again on penultimate track, ‘Try’, where the richness and power of his voice is shown to its fullest. He’s been in full control of this album, and it’s exciting to see what he’s been able to produce.
Finally, ‘The Good Old Days’. An homage to the influences of his youth, Rick recounts his life growing up the youngest of four children, listening to their music, on vinyl, tapes, and the CD players – that came later, so much later. There’s some nice lyrical mentions for artists and songs; “Down the yellow brick road/I drive a yellow taxi to a yellow submarine/Just for fun, a super tramp sign for me/A full beggar’s banquet or a night at the opera”, while sonically it’s just as much a dedication to those artists he grew up listening to.
There’s a certain cynicism to the song as well. Astley sought solace in the words and music of the songs he grew up with, and to a point credits their music with his current Beautiful Life. They were after all, The Good Old Days – can the youth of today take similar refuge? It’s a sobering thought.
‘Beautiful Life’ is available now. See Rick’s official website for further details.