Shine A Light review: Bryan Adams' new album pushes no musical boundaries, but consolidates his loyal fan base
With songs like 'Talk To Me' and 'Don't Look Back', Bryan Adams goes back to treating his fiercely loyal fans to some good ol' signature classic pop-rock.
Two years after releasing his compilation album Ultimate, Canadian rocker Bryan Adams has now released a 12-song album Shine A Light. Unlike Ultimate which had only two new songs, all the tracks of the new album are originals. Adams does not push the envelope in terms of composition or lyrics through this album, but stays fiercely loyal to his fan base of classic pop-rock, the genre that he made famous in his prime.
The title song of the 59-year-old singer's album is co-written by him and (surprise, surprise) Ed Sheeran. While the song reads more like a Bryan Adams number than an Ed Sheeran track, we are not complaining because the final product is quite memorable. The way the track progresses, it paints itself as a road trip song, the one you would listen to while on your way back to your native town. The novelty in the song is the way it starts and ends. While it dives deep into action right from the first line, it ends rather abruptly. But again, we are not complaining because this move lends the song a perennial flow: The music continues to play, just that we cannot hear it.
The second song, 'That's How Strong Love Is', is a classic romantic duet ballad, where Adams shares the vocals with (surprise, surprise again) Jennifer Lopez. This song plays out in a fairly leisurely way. JLo surprisingly blends rather well in the Bryan Adams universe, as she serves as his perfect sounding board and jamming partner. On the downside, the chorus is a bit juvenile and its repeated occurrence (Bryan Adams trademark) only makes the song more repetitive.
This is followed by 'Part Friday Night, Part Sunday Morning', a high-concept track. Adams plays with contrasts in this song both lyrically and musically. He explains a woman is "a little bit shy" like a "Sunday morning" but claims she is also a "little bit bold" like "a Friday Night". He uses relatable metaphors to paint a portrait of a woman who is "a little too young and doesn't want to grow old". He uses warm, soothing expressions like "a cozy fire" and "a lousy lie" and juxtaposes these against a hurried composition that is too restless to reach its conclusion. He effortlessly strums away, allowing the contrasts enough room to interact with each other.
The fourth song, 'Driving Under The Influence Of Love', is a classic pop-rock belter. It storms its way ahead like a car wreck still going strong. Adams' longtime collaborator Keith Douglas Scott exploits his range as a guitarist here as the various guitar patterns act as the intoxication or 'love' in the singer's head. Adams keeps drunkard-dancing to Douglas' tunes and employs a shaky voice here to establish how 'intoxicated in love' he is.
All Or Nothing', has Adams romancing with the extremes. He does not embrace the contrasts like he does in 'Part Friday Night, Part Sunday Morning'. He slots the entire song into black and white boxes. This also creeps into his music as the rhythm sounds too familiar to engage the listener for long. But Adams uses his signature style of blending a simple thought with his impassioned vocals to present an addictive concoction nonetheless. This is no high-concept track but manages to succeed as a foot-tapping number that is good as long as it lasts.
'No Time For Love', is a rather rare anti-love ballad by Adams, who has been synonymous with heartwarming romantic melodies. Though the mood may be more into the zone of self-love, the lyrics and music have nothing new to offer here. Adams' full-bodied vocals save the day to an extent, but the blessing in disguise of this song (or a smart move, if intended) is that it is only two minutes long, relatively much shorter than other tracks of Shine A Light.
'I Could Get Used To This', though even shorter than 'No Time For Love', is more experimental in its composition. Adams uses a static voice here, a deliberate detour from his vocal style, to lend the song some monotony, in sync with the lyrics of the song. He also inserts additional sound effects here, which prevent the monotony from going overboard. But before one can 'get used to this', the song comes to a quick end.
Then comes 'Talk To Me', undoubtedly the best song from this album. There is no overcrowding of guitar pieces here as Douglas lets his buddy take to the microphone and talk directly to his audience. The gentle piano serves as a silent companion to Adams, whose soft vocals remind one of his classics like '(Everything I Do) I Do It For You' and 'Have You Every Really Loved A Woman?'. A brilliantly written song, it serves as chicken soup for the lonely, for those who have a lot to say, and even for those battling depression and other similar mental illnesses. Adams' magnetic, inviting voice works wonders and may serve as an anthem for the listeners, an underrepresented breed in pop music. The song recedes gradually in the end, which adds to its receptive approach.
'The Last Night On Earth', is an exhilarating ride with larger-than-life imagery as Adams uses lyrics that are full of life and sets them against an upbeat composition. He explains his idea of hitting the apocalypse without any traces of pessimism. He romances the void that ultimately awaits everyone and invites his love to 'hit a home run' and kiss him 'like it's the last night on Earth', while the 'universe does all the work' with the sky getting 'burnt like fire'. He ends the note on an abysmal yet uplifting note, hinting that the universe may end but the romance shall continue.
'Nobody's Girl', also has him paint a girl's portrait, a la 'Part Friday Night, Party Sunday Morning'. The girl comes across as rather fascinating because of the grey area she treads in. She is cunning but also inhibited and unapologetic about the same. While Adams' lyrics could come under the scanner of feminists who would question him on his biased portrayal of 'Nobody's Girl', but Adams' endearing vocals and the title itself suggest that the manipulation is merely a function of her choice, which is always a sign of empowerment. Also, the guitars lend a sense of intrigue to her identity.
The 11th song, 'Don't Look Back', is poetry more than a pop song. With lines like "I've given up on happy endings, I know it will last", Adams once again stirs up the optimism inherent in his songs. A few lines after telling his listeners, "Don't look too far," he tells them, "Don't look back." He could have conveniently said, "Live in the present" or some other similar cliche but he lets the poet in him take charge. He follows the chorus with a slap-on-the-back line, thus establishing a personal touch with his audience.
The final song, 'Whiskey In The Jar', is seen through a moist lens. During his latest India tour, he concluded his Mumbai gig with a personal song as well, where he explored his dynamics with his late parents. While this one may be a fictional take, the emotion and the humility remain intact here as well. He tells a childhood story in the form of a song and intentionally uses husky vocals to suggest that he has aged and is thus, looking back fondly at his past. A harmonica interlude further crystallises the nostalgia in the song and ends the album on a deeply personal note.
While all of these songs, to quite an extent, work wonders independently, they start getting to the listener if s/he chooses to hear them all in one go. Since the style and tone of all the songs are more or less similar, the lack of diversity may become overbearing. But if listened to in isolation, every song is a gem that is sure to please his hardcore fan base. Clearly, by not being more experimental with his music, Adams does not want fans of other genres to crush on him. At 59, all he wants to do is look into the eyes of his lifelong fans and tell them in his classic, raspy voice, 'Talk To Me'.
Listen to the entire album here.
All images from Twitter.
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