RICK SPRINGFIELD – Karma (1999)
This has been the most anticipated AOR release in years.
Now you should know by now what a fan I am, so prepare yourselves for a long review! But I hope you will find it still fair and a little impartial! But basically, I love it to death, so it will sound like a rave regardless.
It has been a mere 10 years since Rock Of Life was released and a little longer since Rick launched a full scale tour.
Karma has been several years in planning and over 6 months in recording.
A couple of the songs even originate from the recording sessions from 1993/4 that would eventually become the Sahara Snow project.
I have had the great privilege of listening to demo’s to 7 of the 11 tracks on this album for several months now. And even now, this is not quite the album I was expecting. For the most part, this is a Rick Springfield I have not heard before.
I have reported with much enthusiasm that Rick was returning to his hard edged guitar roots, so it may not exactly be what you are expecting either.
Since the demos were recorded, the songs have been radically re-worked, polished up and have been given that unmistakable Rick Springfield hi-tech AOR tweak.
And this is very high tech. There is a mixture of styles on the album, and less of the hard-edged guitar that made Living In Oz a masterpiece, than I expected.
But it is all pure AOR and pure brilliance.
There is absolutely no doubting the quality of the song writing. The lyrics touch on several subjects but remain the most personal of Rick’s career. A legacy of another bout of writer’s block and several years off the road.
The production is just enormous. As expected there are layers upon layers of guitars, keyboards, synthesizers and vocals. In fact despite the ultra-smooth style of the album, the vocals are quite live and raw in places.
A few of the tracks strip it back more, while a few others go completely over the top!
Listening to the production quality here makes me more aware of what we miss sometimes with the smaller labels.
Generally the style seems to be a mix of a general progression from the Rock Of Life era and a sample of songs from the Sahara Snow project.
Mix those and some unexpected new twists and ten years of passing styles and you get a Rick Springfield that is remarkably fresh and original, yet familiar all the same.
The songs have come from a couple of different backgrounds, which is reasonable to expect given the time frame between this and the last album.
The songs can be split into 2 different ‘feels’ because of their background, but despite this there is an unmistakable instrumental theme running through the record and sure familiarity between all the tracks.
I think it could be best explained in that on half the tracks it is the keyboard/synth taking the lead and in the other half it is the guitar and vocal leading.
Mix them up through the album and it makes for interesting listening.
The long awaited album bursts to life with a snap of a high tech drum and a pseudo dance beat and Prayer is away. The vocal is restrained but smooth and quite raw. The style is something similar to Hold On To Your Dream mixed with Woman, both from the Rock of Life disc. There are plenty of layers of synthesizers and the chorus lifts from mid paced balladry to a poppy and uptempo little anthem.
…now I send a prayer to heaven for the chance to be, a better man than the man I see…
The White Room is another big high tech AOR synth ballad, but with a difference. The subject matter is again deep and complex as is the song.
It starts with a electronic drum beat and clear ‘synth’ piano lead that appears through the song.
The vocals have some effects and is moody to say the very least. The chorus jumps from nowhere to a big rock beat with just a raw guitar and sharp electronic drum beat backing the vocal that is totally out of character with the verse of the song. Another highlight of the album. Listen out for some big drums sounds toward the end of the track.
Free is one of the new tracks that I had not been exposed to. This really threw me to the floor. I was not expecting anything like this. This is one of the greatest ballads I have ever heard.
This simply floors them all. Free is a new age influenced soft ballad with a verse with little musical backing besides a soft guitar and background synth, while the chorus features a duel vocal from Rick with him backing himself over some superb soft electric guitar soloing along side. The end of the song features a solo vocal that will just send shivers up your spine.
Itsalwayssomething is the first guitar driven track of the album and the first taste of Rick Springfield in the 90’s. This track is more laid back than the live version that was road tested this US summer, but lacks none of it’s kick. This is probably the most lyrically deep Rick song that I have heard since My Father’s Chair and once again touches on that subject and the pain that went with it.
The vocal is more up front and urgent and very live and contains a real passion. There is duel guitar accompaniment, one being a straight up riff and the other placing a sort of blues tinge to it.
…I’ve been good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory…anytime I stop to smell the roses they drew blood from me…do you know what I mean?…
The song is mid paced, like much of the record, but the chorus again lifts and rocks in it’s own special way. Mid way through there is a great hard edged guitar solo and the song seems to lift to a rockier finish. This is one of the best Rick tunes I have ever heard.
An absolute anthem of a generation.
Religion Of The Heart is another instant classic. The style is the same as Itsalwayssomething. The lyrics are dark and brooding, as is the vocal. The song is very laid back, but guitar driven with some great background organ, and a bluesy lead guitar during the faster chorus.
…You raise your glass, you drink their wine, but you’re still thirsty all the time…no miracles tonight and you’ll skip the midnight masses…
Shock To My System is another ballad, but with a completely different feel to that of Free. This is another synth dominated track and is basically a big big high tech ballad. It starts slow for sure, but the chorus is just huge. Guitars on the chorus only and a vocal that is mixed with effects similar to that of the Sahara Snow ballad ‘Somewhere’. Just bigger!
Karma is another surprise. Along with the rest of the album, it is not a Rick that I have heard before. Karma is a happy song and lyrically about what you would expect…what comes around, goes around.
The songs reminds me a little of Mr. Mister at their best. This is high tech guitar driven rock, but with big effects and a little of that 70’s psychedelic Beatles influenced. The chorus is rocked up by a nice lead guitar that leans back to the blusy style that is imbedded in the style of the album.
…Every bit of love that I give to another…you know what I believe…it comes back to me…
Beautiful Prize is another new track and the first single. Back to the guitar lead, but this time dominated by an acoustic strum that carries this songs along at a fair pace. Electric guitar, bass and organ also are cleanly mixed into the track. The vocal is back to the style I just love – raw, live and clearly passionate.
The song appears one of the happier tracks of the album, yet the subject matter deals with the extremely serious problem of Incest. The lyrics come from a true story told to Rick.
A similar guitar feel to Lust from Sahara Snow.
…In a house full of secrets…the truth doesn’t matter…
In Veronica’s Head is the track that I have the hardest time describing.
Quite simply it is possibly the best hard rocking Rick songs ever. This track is just going to rip when played live. Especially since the finished version is more laid back again from the demo.
Starting with a strong synth/keyboard hook, then moving to an acoustic guitar backing, Rick’s moody vocals start slowly and stay intense thru the short verse, then the instruments drop out…maybe it’s a fact of life… then bang! The vocal rises from nowhere and it’s drums and guitars and vocals going off. Anthem time! But it still isn’t that fast a track. Just intense.
And as easily as the chorus came, it goes again and so we go round for another shot.
This is as good a track as Love Somebody or Affair Of The Heart. The lead solo rips and the song starts stop/starting with a guitar/drum beat, then it’s more guitars and the chorus keeps going and the vocal is very high.
And then, just as you are about to lose your head, it fades to end. Just as well. Play it again…
Ordinary Girl brings us back to earth with a simple country guitar intro and some nice acoustic/electric strumming that carries us through a truly superb and beautiful mid paced rock ballad.
Great electric guitar lead and some great stripped back vocals. Another highlight like Religion Of The Heart and Itsawlayssomething. Nothing like I have heard before.
Act Of Faith is the last ‘new’ track, (if you don’t include the yet to be heard Japanese and US bonus tracks). This is another high tech synth pop ballad like Shock To My System or Prayer.
This time it is a bit softer and more laid back. It ends the album on a soft tone and makes for great late night listening.
An acoustic version of the classic Jessie’s Girl ends the album. This is a great version with plenty of life and some pretty hyperactive acoustic guitar playing. A really enjoyable listen and a fresh spin on the original. How about an acoustic best of?
And that my friends…is that. The return of one of AOR’s most loved individuals and musicians. This album will take some listening to, with a few maybe initially disappointed. It is not a fast paced album, nor is it completely guitar driven.
Regular visitors to this site, who know my love of all things Rick, are probably expecting a 100% score. I am yet to give one. This was tough, but I still decided to go just short of. 99% is the highest score I have ever given an album because frankly, this is the best record I have heard since doing this site and possibly long before it.
But I accept that a more guitar heavy album would have been just that little bit more desirable.
The core band features Rick, Mike Baird and occasionally Jack White on drums, Tim Pierce on guitars and Phil Shenale on organ and keyboards. Stan Bush and Richard Page appear constantly throughout on backing vocals and Jason Scheff guests on Bass also.
If you don’t love this album straight up, I can see no reason why you won’t after a few days as the songs here are infectious and memorable and simply indispensable.
Essential for all.