Album: “Beautiful Life”
Rick Astley rick-rolled the world two years ago when he resurfaced with a very good album, his first new music in 23 years. The man who had become a jokey internet meme proved a master crafter of pop songs. Now he’s proved that wasn’t a fluke.
The soulful Englishman with the bouffant hair who sang “Never Gonna Give You Up” in the 1980s delivers again on another dozen tracks of his up-tempo, easygoing-down mix of blue-eyed soul, gospel and dance. Like “50” in 2016, Astley wrote and produced “Beautiful Life” all alone and performs all the instruments. There’s only one other person who is all over the new album: That would be Lene Bausager, Astley’s wife. Virtually every song celebrates their love.
Astley just wants to boogie on “Chance to Dance” and wants to be kissed hard on “Last Night on Earth.” His lover gives him a “fear of wanting you too much” on “Every Corner,” “gives me light” on “She Makes Me” and prompts him to “want to run down to the edge of the river singing” on “Shivers,” which has an Imagine Dragons feel.
Astley does eventually step outside his love nest on “I Need the Light,” which nods approvingly at the new generation. “I believe this storm will break/The youth will triumph/Yes they’ll make mistakes/But I know they’ll win.”
The album ends with “The Good Old Days,” which is studded with sly references to other bands — “A super tramp will sing for me/A full beggar’s banquet” — as Astley celebrates the tunes he was raised on.
“Someone saved my life every single night/When the words and the music played/When the records took me away,” he sings. It’s a fitting song for this 52-year-old pop survivor to conclude with, namely, a clever valentine to music itself.
—Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
Album: “Science Fiction”
At its peak, Thompson Twins created some great 1980s synth pop, songs with refined melodies, thoughtful lyrics and a wide range of keyboard sounds, enlivened by crystalline percussion landscaping overlapping rhythms.
Tom Bailey uses those same elements of the band’s identikit on “Science Fiction,” a sprightly musical collection with a glossy finish where feelings of unease and being adrift lurk beneath.
The opening title track narrates an obsession with a literary genre as a means of escapism and the frustration of those feeling left out.
“What Kind of World,” dressed up in Latin beats, stays in the thematic neighborhood — envisioning life on Mars where people inevitably take their problems along and wonder why they made the flight. Inspired by David Bowie and Elon Musk, it notes that for all of humanity’s strange fascination with technology, the real challenge is to save our souls.
“Feels Like Love to Me” is a strolling ballad in A-ha mode, “Ship of Fools” bolsters the sentiments of lacking direction and “Bring Back Yesterday” repeats Paul McCartney’s yearning for times which won’t return no matter what.
Bailey was out of the public eye for a while, though his dub music released as International Observer is worth seeking out, and “Science Fiction” returns him to the pop stage.
It’s an enjoyable album full of catchy melodies and Bailey’s vocals are as expressive as ever, but some more organic sounds would have been welcomed to counter the limitations of a laptop as recording studio.
—Pablo Gorondi, Associated Press