Album Review: Rick Springfield – ‘Rocket Science’

…I’m still not sure what I find most surprising about this album: the fact it is by a fairly well known Australian actor, the fact it is a country/pop rock album being released by Frontier Records or the fact that I really enjoyed it.

OK, let’s at least tackle the obvious first: while Rick Springfield hasn’t exactly made a huge impact over in the UK, he is known for portraying Zac in the pilot for Battlestar Galactica, was one of the biggest stars of Australian soap General Hospital (to the extent that he is still making reappearances in his original role now, thirty years since he stopped being a main cast member!) and acted alongside Meryl Streep in last year’s film Ricki and the Flash (which is currently sitting on a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 64% based on 160 reviews that produced an average score of 6/10, which probably makes it worth a watch if I’m really bored sometime, I imagine…), but it is worth noting that Springfield actually started out as a musician, originally as a member of the band Zoot from 1969 to 1971 and then as a solo artist pretty much from then on (not counting the Sahara Snow album from 1997), releasing his first solo album in 1972, with Rocket Science being his 18th solo album (or 19th, if you count Sahara Snow as a solo record by him, although he doesn’t). I wouldn’t say he’s to Australia what Hugh Laurie is to Brits, but I wouldn’t suggest insulting him in front of an Australian unless you particularly want to find out what an furious Australian looks like…and, considering how many deadly creatures inhabit Australia, I know I don’t!

…I don’t know why this is being released by Frontier Records, before you ask. Maybe there’s a really good reason which I’m unaware of, but I have no possible answer from where I’m sitting as to why this album is being released on a label that isn’t normally well known for releasing anything which even slightly looks like country music.

Anyway, since I’ve given away my thoughts on this album already in the first paragraph, let me jump forward to the end. Yes, this record isn’t typical fare for Frontier Records to be dealing with and it isn’t flawless, but, if you approach it with the understanding of what it actually is, you should have a great time with Rocket Science.

Why? Well, let’s start digging into it!

RICK SPRINGFIELD Rocket Science

As I mentioned earlier, this is a pop/country record at its core (there’s some rock elements to it as well, but the main sound is very much pop/country), and bears more than a slight resemblance to The Shires and Bon Jovi’s Lost Highways album as a result (so, think Nashville’s country scene and you’re on the right track). However, unlike Lost Highways, the sound feels very natural and doesn’t feel like someone trying to force their sound to fit a trend: you can tell this is Rick Springfield being himself very easily! You’d expect this to mean that the record doesn’t have a lot of variety, but, surprisingly, there’s songs which break just enough from the core sound to keep things varied: ‘Miss Mayhem’ has a decent amount of rock influence and even goes for a vibe that reminds me a bit of the opening of Volbeat’s ‘Doc Holliday’ (which is probably not the best point of reference, but hey, I like Volbeat!), ‘All Hands on Deck’ feels like the sort of song that would get an entire arena joining in without difficulty and, surprisingly, you can hear the bagpipes on a few tracks on this album (or, at the very least, something in the same family as them: there’s a lot of different types of them and the only other ones I’m really familiar with that aren’t the Great Highland Bagpipe, the Northumbrian smallpipes and the Uilleann pipes, sound nothing like the ones on this album), which give subtle hints towards folk music that you wouldn’t expect to hear on this album on paper. It’s actually a surprisingly engaging combination and I have to give credit to Springfield for managing to keep what could easily have sounded like a typical pop/country record from blending together!

The instrument performances, as you might expect, are pretty solid. Obviously, the pop focus means that there’s not a lot of opportunities to really go for technically impressive performances, but what is on display is hardly bad on a technical level. There’s a lot of great performances across the whole record, really, and my only real regret is that there’s nothing here that you won’t have heard before if you’re used to hearing this sort of music before now. Again, not a bad thing in and of itself, but, if you’re normally opposed to pop/country or want to hear something new, then this is not going to impress you on the performance front.

Rick Springfield’s vocals are actually not too bad, I have to say. The guy is in his mid sixties, so there’s a definite feeling that he’s not a young man when you hear him sing and he tends to stick with his voice’s comfort zone, but he can still hold a tune very well and his voice’s natural tone is pretty good (and very fitting for the music he is singing), so there’s not really a lot to complain about here. His vocal performance probably won’t win over younger listeners used to the likes of Taylor Swift (although, considering there seems to be a trend of writing musicians off as old news once they get past their 40s, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who are really familiar with Taylor Swift gave you a blank stare if you brought up Rick Springfield and aren’t in Australia), but he still does a decent job overall.

The songwriting quality is a bit harder for me to judge, not usually being one to listen to a lot of pop/country music (old school country and pre-90s pop, yes, post-90s pop and modern country, DEFINITELY not!), but I have to say that just about every single song has a great chorus that got me hooked on listening to it more and even the worst songs on the record didn’t get a worse reaction from me than “That’s not going to be one I’m going to be listening to a lot, but it’s got its good points”. That said, I do have my obvious favourites from the album: album closer ‘Earth to Angel’ is a pretty great way to close the record (I’m a sucker for the bagpipes and the chorus is strong enough to end the album on a high note), ‘All Hands on Deck’ is a song that I’m stunned hasn’t been released as a single from the record due to it being a rather energetic song with a huge chorus that pretty much won me over from the first listen (although I will acknowledge that it isn’t the best representation of the record as a whole, so that could be why it wasn’t a single from the record) and opener ‘Light This Party Up’ is a pretty good rocker which has a chorus that isn’t going to leave your head very quickly.

The production is pretty strong as well, although I will say that the mastering is noticeably louder than I would like. I know this is going to sound unbelievable to some people reading this, but there are hard rock and metal albums released this year on the same label which I can genuinely say are mastered quieter than this album, and this is a pop/country record we’re talking about here!

I am being completely serious with that statement. It’s not to the extents where I’d be saying that the average death metal album is mastered better than this is (death metal in general has a reputation for excessive mastering, although I guess you could argue that it’s a stylistic choice on some level, considering the entire point of death metal is to sound harsh and abrasive), but still, that statement should say it all.

However, rant aside on the mastering, I have to say that everything has been recorded properly (at the very least, nothing feels like it was recorded louder than the recording stuff could cope with!) and the mixing is actually pretty good, as everything is pretty easy to hear (even the bass!). If this album had been quieter mastered, I’d have loved the production of this record overall, but the mastering issue dampens my enthusiasm a bit.

So, overall, I have to say that this is a pretty good record. Some of the songwriting could have been better (although I wouldn’t say it gets bad at any point), the mastering is louder than reasonable and there’s not a lot here to appeal to people who aren’t interested in pop/country, but the whole package is certainly very enjoyable. I still think that Springfield is an odd choice for Frontier Records to be working with, but, if you want a solid pop/country record, then Rocket Science is definitely worth a look into!

Rocket Science will be released on the 19th of February by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.