Saturday, August 16, 2008

Genius in Overdrive

The Genius points the way to a comeback on his new disc Venus in Overdrive

A few weeks ago I downloaded two new albums by two 80's artists that I followed closely in the Reagan era: Night Ranger and Rick Springfield. While I liked the Night Ranger album I'm finding that its wearing out its welcome almost as fast as Toto's Falling in Between disc which is a disappointment because I'm a huge fan of both California bands. Meanwhile, I'm finding the Genius' latest opus to be a little more addictive to listen to. Why is that?

It's because on his new disc Venus in Overdrive, Springfield does what he does best - meld personal songwriting to contemporary mainstream pop rock. Teaming up with Matt Bissonette on songwriting, they focus on the themes of aging with the wisdom gained and fear of loss that comes from the passage of time. Musically, The Genius manages to sound as urgent and modern as a Tween act, streamlined driving rockers with airy choruses and hooks that drop like a ten ton thesis statement. The arrangements are made super tight until it is a polished sheen of pop rock goodness.

Venus can be divided into halves, the first half is an overt attempt to get attention with some strong results. The lead single "What's Victoria's Secret?" has a touch of 80's rock flair to it and makes for fun listening. "Oblivious" is one of the best songs on the album, a midtempo piece with a tortured mood and memorable vocal twist. But the first half also has the albums weaker songs, such as the Maroon 5ish title track and the decent but over simplified "One Passenger". The songs aren't bad though, just a little less than I expect from the Genius. Yet the catchy "I'll Miss That Someday" with its tricky word play helps to keep the first half's momentum flowing.

The second half is where Springfield cuts loose a little more like on the dark vitrol of "3 Warning Shots" where he spits his rage at Mark David Chapman. He also pays homage to some of his influences with the Stonesy swagger of "God Blinked (Swing it Sister)" and the Beatlesque melody to "Nothing is Ever Lost". "Saint Sahara" borrows a bit from the Paul Simon songbook as well but not to distraction. On this half of Venus the Genius sounds more relaxed and adds depth to the disc as a whole.

In the middle of the album is "Time Stand Still", the centerpiece both thematically and in song order. Backed by a rushing arrangment and plaintive "Wait for Me" hook, the song catalogs how Springfield sees the markers of time going by ("MTV and shopping malls / Tell me that I'm growing old") while delivering a youthful vocal.

Genius that he is, the two sides of Springfield play together perfectly as the poppy first half draws you in to the more personable second half. But Springfield downplays any stray thoughts with an energetic and at times really upbeat performance. For some reason the marketing made comparisions to Working Class Dog (1981) album to which I see only a slight likeness to in that they both have clean, smooth arrangements and production. Springfield's comeback bid is well made and is paying off (he just had his highest debut in years on the album chart). It helps that he's made a strong album to go with it, it's not a classic and has some weak moments, but overall is a fine addition to his underrated musical career.

Rick Springfield "What's Victoria's Secret?" on General Hospital

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