In my last installment, I threatened to let an ‘80s teen idol return to rock us. It was difficult to acquire the material for my subject until I found our friends at Spotify. In any case, I knew that I’d heard things I liked from an artist one might be tempted to dismiss: Rick Springfield.
The basic storyline of a soap opera star who struck gold (or platinum) with one of the most recognizable songs in rock history, followed by a few more hits, only to recede, but not without doing more TV, is almost irresistible. I had a theory that dismissed the notion that teen idols can do pretty good music when no one’s paying attention, but Rick Springfield is up to the task.
He released Karma in 1999, and never really stopped, clearly not caring that the spotlight had passed him over. What I want to say in general is there are two Rick Springfields: one knows how to write catchy hooks for pop-rock songs, and another who obviously had a multifaceted relationship with God and family, and wants to tell us about it.
Whether young Rick or old Rick, these two parts are there. And on Karma, the themes of sex and faith are so interwoven that one isn’t sure who he’s talking about. And yet, it’s not a CCM sentimentalism; it comes from a person who thinks he’s learned something about both, even if he’s not sure what.
The best tracks here are “Beautiful Prize,” about a beautiful woman who isn’t fully appreciated, and “Free,” one of the most accurate and moving descriptions of repentance and union with God that you’ll hear, especially in a pop song.
Instead of talking about each track, I think what I should do is spend a few moments reflecting on the experience of conversing with him about these sensitive subjects. There is the sort of middle-aged person who may be ‘spiritual,’ but you know that the divine has been domesticated to fit whatever opinions he happens to have.
Springfield is not that kind of person. His album may not be an audio version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church — this is his second record evoking an Eastern dualistic religion in the title — he is nevertheless serious. If you met him in a bar and had this album as a conversation, you’d shake his hand, appreciating the talk.
In truth, only the first musical track fails to catch the attention. As for the rest, the worst you could say is that it blends together. It makes me wonder what Justin Timberlake will accomplish after his stardom is past.
It seemed reasonable to check in on the mid-point of Springfield’s post-fame career. Though I still regard “State Of The Heart” as the best song in his career, he certainly brings no shame to himself here, and is even compelling. You won’t regret “Karma;” I give it a B+.
Jason Kettinger is a contributing editor to Open for Business.