Review: Rick Astley - Beautiful Life

The re-evaluation of Rick Astley isn’t, in the grand scheme of things, the weirdest story of recent years. It is, nonetheless, odd. After his debut album’s phenomenal success, declining sales drove him to retire by 1993, while the initial response to his 21st Century comeback was muted. His seventh album, My Red Book, remains unreleased, and only a decade ago he was the butt of pranksters touting the ‘rickrolling’ meme.

Still, it was likely his calm, charming response to such ‘larks’ that endeared him to the public again. Astley’s a decent bloke, they decided, making decent music, and his humility is rare for a former teen idol. He’d battled the odds to become successful, sidestepped bitterness when things didn’t work out, and with 2016’s 50 they decided – if partially through a sense of affectionate irony – to reward him. That irony, however, returned him to the top of the charts for the first time since 1987’s Whenever You Need Somebody.

Whether Beautiful Life will repeat this is debatable. Despite a cover photograph by Rankin that aspires to present him as pop’s Princess Diana, it lacks charisma, instead trading in boilerplate, adult contemporary pop like Empty Heart, whose tasteful brass embellishments can’t mask curious lines like “I gave you love/ I gave you blood”. The title track, meanwhile, starts like Coldplay’s Adventure Of A Lifetime, ends like a Christians song, and crams in clichés like “You know I need you/ I need your touch”. Last Night On Earth also recalls the Liverpudlians, then drifts towards the sound of the Dave Matthews Band, while the muttered delivery of Rise Up makes it the world’s least incendiary song of rebellion.

But despite its rhyming dictionary dependence, Shivers offers an unanticipated chorus and imaginative electronic percussion, and Better Together – a potentially metaphorical Remainer’s anthem – trips along sweetly. Furthermore, he finally lets that voice rip on Every Corner, and The Good Old Days’ ode to youthful influences will be irresistible to all but the most cynical. There’s no need to give Astley up, but this won’t keep us together forever.

Written by Wyndham Wallace. Released on BMG.

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