You might know him as your mom’s old crush from the '80s, but Australian rocker Rick Springfield has seen places far darker since his heartthrob days.
Having released around 20 albums as a solo artist, Springfield has been making music since he was a teenager. But it’s the peppy power-pop classics such as "Don't Talk to Strangers" and the catchy "Jessie's Girl" of his heyday that have lingered longest in the fabric of our culture and the hearts of '80s nostalgics.
“My image is a bright, shiny, happy guy, but that’s not me at all,” the singer and guitarist laughs. In fact, most listeners would never guess that his latest record, The Snake King, was created by the same guy who sang, "She's watching him with those eyes / And she's lovin' him with that body, I just know it."
The bluesy affair is heavy and loaded with religious imagery and provocative lyrics. Its tracks include “Jesus Was an Atheist” and “God Don’t Care.”
The dusty title track — with lyrics such as “I got a jelly roll with alcohol and Vicodin” and a chorus of "I am your dark sin/I am the snake king” —is all about temptation.
The Snake King’s themes reach beyond simple, provocative offers of sin. “It’s a metaphor for God, the Devil, and me and you,” he says. “There’s also a lot of ego in the world, and you’ve got to wonder where God is at this point.”
The central theme of the record is our demise as a society, something Springfield says was “hard to miss when you look at the world and the snakes we have elected as leaders.” But the heart of this album is the blues — no frills, no fuss, just blues — his steel guitar stealing the show for the hour.
The star doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t love the blues. When he was growing up in Australia, all the bands he played in tried to emulate the raw greatness of legends such as Chuck Berry. He says he learned the most from the star’s simple yet innovative chord progressions.
“Part of the attraction of blues for a young guitar player is you can hear these guys playing, and you can do a fairly good rip-off version of what they're playing because it’s pretty simple stuff.”
And the blues make for a great vehicle for the darker themes in this album. “I thought it suited it instead of just straight up pop or rock,” Springfield says.
His later albums feature a heavy fixation on the spiritual and the mythical, which have significantly marked Springfield throughout his many years as a star. “It’s a search. I’ve gone up and down and still don’t have a good answer," he says. "I’m still searching, which is what a lot of the record is about.”
But The Snake King is as playful as it is political, with the singer aware of the boldness of his statements. “I like to poke a stick in people’s eyes and also have fun with it.”
This isn’t the first time Springfield has experimented with an edgier sound. The years have allowed him to play with hard rock and heavy metal on albums such as Venus in Overdrive and Karma.
Springfield is not making any strategic moves, however. He genuinely does what feels right for his songs and allows them to take whatever form suits them best. He seems unaware of the rarity of such a range, his approach truly intuitive and personal.
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The singer has previously been open about his mental health, and the album makes room for it on songs such as “Suicide Manifesto.”He embraces these emotions as a part of himself. “I kind of live there most of the time... As you get older, different issues creep up, and that’s what I try and write about.”
Springfield will perform at Pompano Beach Amphitheater Tuesday, August 28, as part of his Stripped Down Tour, which has kept him on the road for the past two years. Loverboy, Greg Kihn, and Tommy Tutone will also play at the show. So how does he make room for both his biggest hits and the gritty tunes on The Snake King?
“The new songs definitely add energy to the whole show, and it’s exciting to play new music because we are on the edge with it. Nothing is set in stone,” he says.