David Essex

Rock On

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With the title track instantaneously established among the defining songs of the 1970s (not to mention David Essex's own career), the singing actor's first album had a lot to live up to. So, it says much for the quality of his collaboration with producer/arranger Jeff Wayne that, from the moment "Lamplight" gets things underway, Rock On asserts itself in the most convincing manner possible -- by spinning that track off as a second worldwide hit. Neatly divided between the darkly percolating, percussive rumbles that characterized his breakthrough and the broader ballads that would ultimately ensure Essex's longevity as a performer, Rock On is a supremely confident debut, as indeed it ought to be -- with a recording career that dated back to 1965, Essex had been waiting a lifetime to make it. As he himself sings in the closing "Sept. 15th," "I've been doing a show for a long time." His roots show, as well, in sweet covers of Paul Simon's "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her" and Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman's "Turn Me Loose," while there's also a reverb-drenched stab at proving further versatility with the mock-Caribbean swagger of "Ocean Girl" (to rhyme with "I love the way you twirl," of course). Another cover, Travis Pritchett's "Tell Him No," is especially persuasive, its lyric drawing such emotion out of Essex's voice that it overcomes even the heavy effects and canyon-like echo with which his tones are normally swamped -- yes, Virginia, the boy can sing. It is the brittle sonics of the self-composed "Rock On," "Lamplight," "Streetfight," and "We All Insane" that are most memorable, however, and ensure that his early years remain the best remembered. But next time somebody suggests that all you really need of Essex is a decent greatest-hits collection, remember that the chirpy love songs and heartaching ballads of later years had to start somewhere.

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