It seems my chosen role on the Daily Vault is that of Valiant Defender Of Unappreciated Eighties Artists. No matter what abuse I take, I shall continue to state proudly and openly that some of these guys with pretty-boy reputations, some of these synthesizer bands, nay, some of the MTV-created phenomena, weren't half bad. (Flames and nasty mail can be addressed to the Daily Vault mailbox, which hasn't had a major uproar since that Third Eye Blind thing. We're about due.) ( Ed note: This refers to one of the finest flamewars in Daily Vault Mailbag history. Maybe someday we'll get Uncle Chris to tell us ALL about it.)
Today's hard-working, misunderstood eighties icon is Rick Springfield. Now, I know for most people, mere mention of the Aussie lad gives them convulsions neatly set to the beat of "Jessie's Girl". But forget Hard To Hold, forget "Bop Til You Drop", even forget General Hospital, and admit it: some of Springfield's eighties singles were well-constructed, rich, and dynamic pop music. Songs like "Souls" and "Affair Of The Heart" showed he could do something better, but a string of bad breaks (most notably a motocross accident that cancelled the tour for his excellent 1989 CD, Rock Of Life), dropped his music career out of the stratospheric level of previous hits.
Damn shame, too. Because it means very few people will hear Karma, his latest CD -- and they should. Karma is the work of a mature, almost-fifty Springfield; he still knows how to collapse his musical world into three and a half minute sound bites, but those bites have a lot more bite, if you'll forgive the pun.
Karma is the musical story of a man who has realized what he's done, and where he is at his age, and what that means. It's a study of what's important and what's not, and the lyrics have an oddly spiritual edge to them. Standout tracks include "Religion Of The Heart", "Karma", "Free", "Prayer", and "The White Room" -- all share a central thread of a search for truth under all the glitz. The music itself is powerful, tight, and much more guitar driven -- Springfield somewhere turned into a heck of a guitar player, and licks on tracks like "It's Always Something" are reminiscent of the best of power pop.
There are a couple of miscues, but they're minor. "Beautiful Prize" is yet another song examining a Deep Social Subject (the winner today is sexual abuse) and while the subject is a horrible, horrible thing, the song comes off preachy and a little flat. And while "Shock to the System" is a great song, someone should tell Rick it's pronounced 'shock', not 'shark'.
All in all, Karma is a damned impressive piece of work from a man who pop culture long ago relegated to an ass running away down a tunnel under a stadium; impressive enough I'm going to try to find his obscure 1997 release Sahara Snow. Get over your flashbacks and give it a chance. You'll be surprised.