Rick Astley, “50” (BMG)
No, you’re not being Rick-rolled . He’s back.
Rick Astley, the soulful English pop star with the bouffant hair who sang “Never Gonna Give You Up” in the 1980s, has resurfaced with a new album that’s fun, modern and surprisingly strong. Turns out, the joke is on us.
The dozen songs on “50” — named, in a sort of Adele hat-tip to his current age — is pure blue-eyed soul, from the gospel-flavored opening track “Keep Singing” to the John Mayer-esque “Pieces,” a guitar-driven populist tune. He also gets honky-tonk, electro-funky and folky. Few artists from the ’80s have returned to deliver a new batch of songs with such diversity and strength.
Astley’s voice is warm and powerful — so is his bouffant — and he has reason: “50” scored his first U.K. No. 1 in 29 years. In America, it’s a natural album for fans browsing the adult contemporary charts, but their kids should swipe it for a spin, too.
Astley wrote and produced “50” all alone — and performs all the instruments — proving he’s kept up with changes in music while we were wasting time sending each other internet links with his “Never Gonna Give You Up” video.
The album’s first single “Dance ” — with its dialogue between God and the devil over a thumping house beat — is Astley at his winking, over-the-top best. It’s nice to finally laugh with him after years when he was the butt of the memes.
Maybe the emergence of Sam Smith made it safe for Astley to come back. Whatever it was, welcome back, Rick. You can roll us anytime.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits