Rick Astley

Portrait

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Released a few years before the Internet phenomenon known as "Rick Rolling" and his ironic "Best Act Ever" win at the 2008 MTV Europe Music Awards launched him back into the music scene's consciousness, Rick Astley tested the appetite for a comeback with this collection of iconic American pop standards. Having prematurely retired at the tender age of 27, the former Stock, Aitken & Waterman protégé had already witnessed something of a minor revival thanks to 2002's double whammy of his Top 20 entry, Greatest Hits, and the European-only, Keep It Turned On, but Portrait was his first new studio album to be released in his homeland since 1993's Body & Soul. While on the surface, the selection of big-band numbers, lounge-pop classics, and traditional jazz standards may be a million miles away from the high-processed bubblegum pop of his "Never Gonna Give You Up" days, Astley is no stranger to the timeless songs of yesteryear, having previously covered the Temptations' "Aint Too Proud to Beg," and Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love" in his late-'80s heyday. Two tracks made famous by Cole also appear here too, ("These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" and "Nature Boy,") but elsewhere, Astley focuses on the perfectly crafted pop of Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("What the World Needs Now," "They Long to Be (Close to You)," "Make It Easy on Yourself"), Don McLean ("Vincent," "And I Love You So"), and songs from the movies such as West Side Story's "Somewhere," Andy Williams' vocal adaptation of the Love Story theme ("Where Do I Begin?"), and Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii number "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You." Unfortunately, Astley appears to be going through the motions on the majority of the album, his trademark rich and soulful vocals very rarely shining above the tepid and lackluster production from Chris Braide (Westlife), and apart from a smoky blues reworking of Julie London's "Cry Me a River" and a Nashville-style interpretation of Jo Stafford's "You Belong to Me," there's very little attempt to differentiate from the originals. Indeed, it's very unlikely that anything from Portrait will be receiving the YouTube sensation treatment in 20 years time, thanks to its lazily selected and mundanely arranged collection of familiar songs which ultimately fails to provide even a fraction of the joy of his iconic global '80s hit.

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