Rick Astley - 50

Review: Rick Astley, “50”

Rick Astley fans can be forgiven for feeling a bit short changed over the past couple of decades. After all, this is Astley’s first album release in over a decade, and that was a covers album (2005’s Portrait); it’s been a full fifteen years since his last album of new material Keep It Turned On and that wasn’t even released in the UK, so you have to go all the way back to 1993 to find an album of new Rick Astley songs in the British shops. And he said he was never gonna give you up! The nerve of some people! What a surprise then, after twenty-three years, to be able to pick up Rick’s new CD in Tesco (other musical emporia are available), take it home, stick it in your PC, XBox or whatever you use for playing CDs these days, and be greeted immediately with the familiar clattering drum machine and synth intro to Never Gonna Give You Up

No, not really. 50 opens with Keep Singing, Rick’s comeback single which was all over Radio 2 back in April. Newton-le-Willows’ most famous son may have reached his half century but the Astley pipes remain as mellifluous as ever, while the constant rattle of Hit Factory machinery has been replaced by piano, guitar and a gospel choir. Yes, that’s where the alarm bells start ringing. A brief mention of some unspecified bad thing that happened to him as a child, then fifteen seconds into track one Astley announces “But then there was joy, found my religion” and we instantly know where the rest of the album is headed. Further holy imagery peppers the rest of the song – “I knew that I’d been spared”, “blessed are the children”, “you’ll be saved” – but it’s a gospel song and the musical setting is agreeable enough, so perhaps we can let that slide for now.

But… track 2 is called Angels On My Side. Then there’s God Says, Somebody Loves Me, Pray With Me… The gospel choir remains in place for the duration, there are further references to the devil, miracles, chariots of fire, the saints marching in… Yes, Rick’s midlife crisis has led to him finding God and, like all the very worst religious people, he wants you to know all about it. A shame really, as there is much to like on this album: This Old House turns out not to be a Shakin’ Stevens homage but a powerful slice of electro-rock, Coming Home Tonight has a rousing hands-in-the-air chorus and I Like the Sun is guaranteed a place on the Radio 2 playlist if we see anything even vaguely resembling a decent summer. Overall though, it’s difficult to relax into the album without the nagging suspicion that what you thought was a pleasant love song is going to turn out to be a religious metaphor. After years of Rickrolling, Astley has had the last laugh: with 50 challenging for the number 1 spot in its first week of release, thousands of people have been Rickrolled into buying a Christian rock album. Well played, Rick, well played.


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