A major change of direction, the disappointing Free found Rick Astley working with producer Gary Stevenson instead of the Stock/Aitken/Waterman team and going for a very adult contemporary-type pop/R&B sound instead of the dance-oriented direction that put him on the map. No longer were the Average White Band and '70s Philly soul/disco valid comparisons; the new and less appealing Astley had more in common with Michael MacDonald and the Doobie Brothers -- though this generally pedestrian material isn't nearly as clever. There are a few songs on Free that pack a bit of a punch, including "The Bottom Line" and the rock-influenced "Is This Really Love," but most of them (many written or co-written by Astley himself) are as bland as they are forgettable. Quite clearly, Astley is someone who needs the help of expert producers/composers -- and not necessarily Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, for example, could probably do quite well by him. For those checking out Astley for the first time, Whenever You Need Somebody would be a much wiser investment.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson