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Few things are as annoying as seeing an underappreciated musician reduced to a single song. You see it with artists such as Cyndi Lauper – as if she never had another hit besides “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – and Richard Marx, who apparently will always be associated with “Hold On to the Nights” and not his dozen other Top 40 appearances.
Someone else who gets relegated to ‘80s-only status yet has been making terrific, thoughtful, engaging pop-rock for nearly 30 years is Rick Springfield.
Yeah, yeah, we all know about “Jessie’s Girl” since he’s forced to play it on every talk show appearance. But that immediately identifiable ditty aside, he’s notched a dozen-plus Top 40 hits, and, in the past two decades routinely dug deep into his own psyche (the soulful “Rock of Life”), opened a few veins and tackled some demons (2004’s “Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance”) and crafted enjoyable singalongs (“What’s Victoria’s Secret” from 2008’s “Venus in Overdrive” is example No. 96).
But with “Songs for the End of the World,” Springfield, an unbelievable 63, rips out rockers with the verve of a musician half his age. “My Last Heartbeat” talks about the cavalry coming and that it is, in the form of propulsive guitars and Springfield’s vigorous vocals, both on full display throughout the album.
The escalating drum roll and heavy guitars that introduce “Wide Awake,” the first song on the release, immediately announce that this will be a high-octane ride.
And what a tremendous accomplishment for Springfield at this point in his career.
Much like KISS’ new “Monster” (also out today – see below), Springfield’s 18th album culls elements from past work (“One Way Street” will remind fans of “World Start Turning” from “Rock of Life,” though the galloping pace shares something with Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights,” too) but keeps him firmly relevant with a fresh modern rock sound, insanely catchy choruses and lyrics that come from someone who has spent plenty of time in a therapist’s chair.
Springfield has always deftly couched bittersweet sentiments in honeyed choruses, and that gift is evident on “Our Ship is Sinking,” a desperate swipe to hang on to a relationship with a sunny bridge that belies the darker lyrics (“If I’m the one who caused who caused your shipwrecked life, then hold my hand right to the fire”).
Even the amusingly titled “I Hate Myself” sports a boppy beat with twisted lyrics (“Everybody thinks I’m a creep and so do I”); and talk about a chorus tailor made for live singalongs (you’ll probably get your chance when he plays the Cobb Energy Center Nov. 29).
The only times the tempo pauses for a breath are for the sweet “You and Me,” a midtempo song about the simplicity of the right partnership and the chillingly beautiful “Gabriel” (as in Arc Angel).
Springfield has never been a lazy songwriter and even when he dabbles in sentiment – “Joshua” is written for his twentysomething son – he makes sure the song’s foundation is built on melody, not schmaltz.
“Songs” is a renaissance of sorts, an unwavering collection of musical diary entries that explore mature topics with intelligence and keen musicality.
For listeners who incorrectly peg Springfield as a onetime heartthrob with one signature hit, this is your chance to understand what those who have faithfully followed his career have known all along: He’s a first class pop craftsman.
Also available Tuesday:
Don Felder, “Road to Forever,” the first solo album in 30 years from the Eagles guitarist. Guests include Crosby, Stills and Nash, Steve Lukather and Tommy Shaw.
Robert Glasper, “Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP,” the latest from the jazz pianist, takes songs from his February release “Black Radio” and funks them up with help from The Roots and Solange Knowles.
KISS, “Monster,” marks one of the band’s strongest albums since their ‘70s heyday. Songs such as “Freak,” “All for the Love of Rock and Roll” and the Simmons-sung “The Devil is Me” should rattle the roofs of many an arena.
Xzibit, “Napalm,” his first album in six years features production from Dr. Dre and Akon and guest shots from Wiz Khalifa, Travis Barker and Prodigy.
Wanda Jackson, “Unfinished Business,” is the 31st studio album from the Queen of Rockabilly, who, at almost 75, decided to throw in some covers of songs by Etta James, Woody Guthrie and Bobby Womack.
The Script, “#3,” from the Irish band that has carved quite a career in the U.S. with their own agreeable melodic pop and those that turned into hits for others (Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying”). On first single “Hall of Fame,” the band has an unlikely pairing with will.i.am.
The Wallflowers, “Glad All Over,” the band’s first album in seven years, offers the funky fresh “Reboot the Mission” with Mick Jones, but the real standout is the Stones-y shuffle, “Misfits and Lovers.”
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene