Rick Springfield’s got the blues in comeback album

When General Hospital star and all-round Australian heartthrob Rick Springfield first told the world about Jessie’s Girl, who didn’t tune in to his pulse-quickening music and impassioned plea? The song would take the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 and award a Grammy to the singer for best male rock vocal performance, cementing the song’s place in popular music history.

Since then, however, Springfield has undergone some changes, both in mood and in music. So much so that Jessie’s Girl may not even recognise her one-time not-so-secret admirer. She would have an even harder time after listening to the brooding self-portrait of his new album.

Released on January 26, The Snake King tackles religion, blames ignorance for accelerating our dystopian destiny, and predicts the fall of the ecosystem.

Springfield knows the blues

Feeling blue is kind of the point of The Snake King. Reflecting on those in the entertainment industry who have taken their own lives, such as Robin Williams and Chester Bennington, Springfield says that he understands how they felt because he’s also been there. With his own history of suicidal thoughts and depression, this collection of songs is his bid to stop out of his dark shadows. Whether he profits from it or not is a whole other issue.

The album delivers the perfect marriage of deep Delta blues, raw harmonica, and slithering slide guitar. Standouts in the first half of the album include the Chicago blues-inspired ‘The Devil That You Know’, with its strong religious theme, and ‘Judas Tree’, a song that takes us on a journey to more traditional blues.

The album’s second half fares every bit as well as the first, but sonically, it’s a touch more varied: from the Southern-laced slide guitar stomper of ‘The Voodoo House’ to the easy bar blue of ‘God Don’t Care’, the variety in tone is pleasing, as is the swing-led rocker, ‘Suicide Manifesto’.

For anyone who has read Rick Springfield’s very personal and intimate memoir from 2011, Late At Night, his stories of depression will leave you with no uncertainty that he knows how it feels to get the blues. His turn at translating those emotions into music with his new album The Snake King is very definitely a good thing.

A long time coming

Springfield admits that he’s been thinking about such an album for a long time, although he wrote the basic drafts of the songs in a single weekend, fiddling with them over a few months afterwards. He calls the set a theme record, the first he’s ever done, based on a character by the name of The Snake King. According to Springfield, that character could be him, it could be God, it could be Devil, or could even be just “the news”.

While the majority of his success has been in pop/rock, he has enjoyed the blues since a young boy when he learned to play the guitar. The first bands Springfield played in were in that genre and so he became actively involved at a young age. The likes of The Rolling Stones and the British Invasion bands that were influenced by the blues appealed to him. He’d never heard such music in Australia and when he and his band heard the music, they started looking into where it came from and discovered such artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B King, Chuck Berry, Robert Johnson, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He learned from the blues players how to play the guitar: those players who also influenced Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton.

Springfield sees his new album every bit as much blues-rock as he does straight blues, although writing the songs will have been a very different experience than penning the likes of ‘Jessie’s Girl’.

While hardcore blues fans may not be sold on the idea that the one-time pin-up and singer of Jessie’s Girl is releasing an album in the genre, his army of fans will be all too eager to hear his latest work. Music fans enjoy nostalgia as much as any other, but there’s something about the 80’s in particular that has captured our imagination of late. Whether it’s music from the likes of Rick Springfield, comebacks of recent TV shows such as Full House and Roseanne, movie remakes like Roboco and Footloose, or even in the world of video games, where we’re seeing the constant reinvention of Pac-Man (Pixels the movie, anyone?), the ’80s are everywhere. Slot games are also tapping into the era. Oddschecker, for example, is full of casinos offering games with a no deposit bonus and free spins, with many including an 80’s game or two, such as The Naked Gun and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

But make no mistake… Springfield’s new album is very definitely not an ’80s record.

A dark journey

The 12 tracks on The Snake King delve into some dark terrain, as suggested by such titles as ‘Blues For The Disillusioned’, ‘God Don’t Care’, ‘Judas tree’, ‘The Devil That You Know’, and ‘Land of the Blind’. Springfield clearly feels that blues lends itself well to the God/devil and sex thing, and certainly more so than pop. He was also inspired by the political climate and an obsession with the news, being someone who reads a lot and talks about current events when on the road.

Suicide Manifesto’ is also something of a provocative track. Springfield gained attention earlier this year by revealing that his inner demons resulted in him contemplating suicide, although he got over that spell.

Little Demon’ illustrates how the album provides Springfield with an opportunity to showcase a grittier side to his music that, until now, he has only been able to reveal in concert. At over five minutes long, the track allows him to stretch his muscle muscles on the bluesy guitar breaks.

Springfield, who has had 17 hits in the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100, began incorporating a small number of tracks from the album into his ‘Stripped Down’ tour over the last two years, which led to the full album. He intends to add more now that the album is available to buy. Springfield had a lot of fun playing his new material to audiences and the feedback was positive enough to have him considering moving in that direction for the album. Further, with the way the world is right now, he was inspired to write a more lyric-driven record.

He hasn’t said no to more blues down the line, although he reportedly unsure about another one-genre album. It just so happens that the lyrics he has been inspired to write suit the blues genre and he had enough to write an entire album with.

It’s blues, but it’s Springfield

The Snake King, no matter how much it may depart from the artist poppy past, is very much a Rick Springfield album: unexpected lyrics, some fine guitar playing, and just all-around wonderful songs. In spite of its smoky blues melodies, this isn’t a Robert Johnson impersonation, and isn’t embracing the genre to its very core; but the trademark melodies, warm tones, and textures of the blues are on full display here.

Fans of Springfield won’t be disappointed. It still sounds like him, albeit a more mature version, and one that sits firmly n the comfortable corner of AOR/Melodic Rock. Springfield has always been someone who can achieve just about he sets his mind to. The Snake King is further evidence that that remains true.

Springfield has been busy outside of music of late. He made an appearance in the Dave Grohl documentary Sound City and wrote two books that have appeared on the New York Times best-seller list. He has been spending a lot of time on screen, in fact. He starred with Meryl Streep in Rikki & The Flash and appeared in numerous episodes of True Detective. He has also been seen in American Horror Story and Supernatural, in which he played Satan.

A limited-edition vinyl version of the album will be available through the Frontier Records’ website. It will be the artist’s first vinyl release since Rock of Life in 1988.

Chris Mawson

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