A man who boasts of never giving up or letting anyone down is good in the books of a nation who invites him to the stages of Glastonbury to perform covers of The Smiths. Realising the fun to be had with covers and with a platform big enough to convince others of the potential, Rick Astley has found a comfortable spot as a national favourite through one song. Fair, it is a hell of a song, but Are We There Yet? hopes to remind us of his talents elsewhere. Yes, he does have other songs. Other albums, even. Including this one. He did not receive the praise at the time for a wonderful voice, and now Glastonbury stages await the 57-year-old, whose new soulful album is a fusion of everything right and wrong with the post-glory days of alleged one-hit wonders.
What a weak year it is for artists inspired by the standards of the 1950s. Van Morrison is still lingering in the mind and expects more to tune in for his latest record of novelty numbers. Astley, singing of city boys and the Mississippi River, does not sit well. It is a sickly concoction of everyday pop riffs and out-of-place experiences for the Lancashire-born lad. Dippin’ My Feet is the start of an already slippery slope. A quick five months in America is all it takes for Astley to pick up his guitar and channel the land of the free, which sounds less and less liberated as the Never Gonna Give You Up singer storms through these twelve tracks. Letting Go has a moment where it sounds like the tape has skipped, though Spotify does not usually recreate this trouble, meaning the repetition from Astley is an active choice.
Soppy material soon follows, and the slow ballad Golden Hour presents, as the rest of these songs do, the strong range Astley still holds. No wonder he was allowed to cover Harry Styles and The Smiths in one weekend this summer. Easy listening hits a new low with these tracks of Astley rekindling his love for guitar. A sad shame a man defending the sparks of his regrowing interest sounds so shamefully ripped from here or there. Xylophone covers of distant Chic riffs on the not-so-inspiringly named Forever and More set the standard for what follows. Double bill Driving Me Crazy and Maria Love is a sliver of quality which brings Astley’s efforts here from mundane to manageable. What a switch of pace.
Never Gonna Stop? Is that so, Rick? Hopefully not. Deep within Are We There Yet? is a talented performer with a great voice. He and Michael Bublé have much in common. Pigeonholed into a specific brand or connotation while providing an extraordinary range elsewhere. This latest offering of a few months in America and a resurgence of instrumental interest is not the illuminating instance it could have been, nor were those Glastonbury appearances to be fair. Astley still has an extraordinary voice and is not afraid to share it, though his material leaves much to be desired. He is not there yet, but there is still time to reach the lofty heights of a debut album long past, and often forgotten.