REVIEW: ‘Portrait’ by Rick Astley (CD, 2005)


Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 2005 album Portrait by British pop and internet meme legend, Rick Astley, but would you be better off with a blank canvas? Read on..

Acoustic guitar, brushed snare and a bass drum open this 12 track covers album with song Vincent. This wasn’t a song that I recognised by its title, but as soon as Rick’s rich, soulful voice begins it instantly reminds me of a song I remember on my father’s record player – the original by Don McLean. This version is really nice and warm, gradually building with bass, electric keyboard and piano. This is a beautiful version and a great start.

Up next is And I Love You So, picking up acoustic guitars and bass again, in this second cover of a Don McLean track. Rick’s voice, backed with the slight country sounding rhythm reminds me a bit of Allison Moorer. Bass and piano arrive, giving the song a heavier second part, and these sit perfectly alongside the vocals as the beat kicks in.

Title track Portrait Of My Love, gives the chance for Rick to show off his deeper vocals, and set alongside the slower pace, sees him joined by flurries of strings and a thick bass. This version is not so far off the original by Matt Monroe. As Rick reaches up, the beats come in, giving both he and the strings something to lift them up.

The cover of Shirley Bassey‘s Where Do I Begin? sees Rick take on this song with strong vocals, fearless of Shirley’s original. He’s supported with some great soprano saxophone which sits in the safe hands of John Altman, and who gets some wonderfully sultry solos here as the strings weave around him. Whilst Shirley’s version is by far the definitive, Rick’s gives it a respectful amount of room, leaving his version as a nice little cover.

This is followed by a cover of the 1930’s jazz hit These Foolish Things, made famous by Billie Holliday (amongst others). The bass is delicious here, backed by warm strings, and the piano carries the melody in unison with some gentle strumming acoustic guitars. Rick delivers a wonderful jazzy version, with his deeper voice making it feel right at home.

A slow-paced bluesy cover of Cry Me A River is up next, seeing the song take a different tone than the most famous version by Julie London from 1955. The song’s strings add a more emotive sound, and the tick plodding bass almost adds a sense of anger to this version. Once again, Rick’s version really does sound great.

1948’s Nature Boy follows this – another great choice of track, this time one that was originally recorded by Nat King Cole. Whilst his version naturally gave the piano more of a presence, Rick’s lets acoustic guitars take the weight of the melody. Rick’s voice effortlessly flows through the lyrics, giving us another great sounding track.

Bravely tackling The Carpenters‘ hit Close To You, Rick hands this over to chugging guitars, building it up with beats and bass. His vocals sit well in this rockier sound, which gives us a much harder sound than the original from 1970.  Again John Altman gives us a wonderful burst of soprano sax in the mid-section, before we return to Rick for the final half. This is a great rockier version of this song, which I was apprehensive of listening to.

Up next is You Belong To Me which is the first song here that I don’t recognise (the most popular version was by Jo Stafford). This has some distinct country-sounding guitars alongside its slow plodding bass and beats. Rick gets to really show off his vocal power and range in the middle section, before being washed in a string section towards the end.

Acoustic guitars open next song, Make It Easy On Yourself, the second of three Burt Bacharach and Hal David tracks (Close To Me being the first). This feels like a more stripped back version of The Walker Brothers’ 1975 version, and whilst that doesn’t give the song the wave of vocals that theirs did, Rick’s version allows him to let his voice shine and make it sound a little sadder.

Another ‘new’ song to me is Somewhere until the chorus section, which I recognise as a Stephen Sondheim song from West Side Story. The emphasis on this version is Rick’s vocal power, with some strings soaring in the background with a horn. It’s a nice enough version, but it’s not my favourite song.

Piano opens I Can’t Help Falling In Love (With You), giving way to let some delicate acoustic guitar take over. This version is far far better than the early 90’s version by UB40. Whilst this isn’t the Elvis Presley version, Rick’s really does dodge it by giving us a simple rendition. There’s some more wonderfully intricate acoustic guitar in the middle before the drums up their game, and duel the strings section, giving Rick the chance to show off his vocals like a dog on a leash ready to run.

The album closes with What The World Needs Now. This is a nice up-beat version of this Jackie DeShannon track, giving the album a nice foot-tapping familiar sounding ending. A great fresh sounding version.

Over all, this album is a really nice luxurious, yet also simple sounding album. Using a covers album as a career comeback was probably a fairly safe bet, although it’s a shame that we don’t get to hear any of Rick’s own songwriting here. Still, his voice is flawless and rich, and the production is slick with plenty of grand and delicate sounds within it, and also plenty of space to breath. Cast aside the Never Gonna Give You Up years, this is an older Rick Astley, who sounds like he taught Michael Bublé and Jamie Cullum how to make music.

Where is Rick Astley now?

This was Rick’s first album since his Body And Soul pop album in 1993, which had seen him retire from the music industry. After 12 years, as a return to music, this was a pretty great and gentle place to start.

Just three years later, Rick would find himself finding international success as part of the ‘rick-rolling‘ meme that gave him mass attention around the world.

Rick’s most recent UK charting single was Lights Out which scraped into the top 100 (at #97) in 2010, despite sounding like a missing Coldplay single. His most recent studio album to chart to date, is this one, but he also saw a his Ultimate Collection reach #17 in 2008.

He now tours extensively, and at the date of writing, his sold out 2016 tour has had further dates added, proving that his fans are never gonna give him up.

POP RESCUE ‘PORTRAIT’ ALBUM RATING

  • POP RESCUE 2016 RATING: 4 / 5
  • 2005 UK CHART PEAK: #26
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Poundland store.

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