Richard Marx, ‘Songwriter': Album Review
Listeners of a certain age mostly recall Richard Marx as the impossibly coiffed singer and songwriter of the late '80s. His first two records included such radio staples as "Don't Mean Nothin'" and "Right Here Waiting." This was music that soundtracked high-school crushes and prom spotlights.
Now 59, Marx has gone on to a career as both a performer and songwriter, the latter of which is the focus of his 13th album, Songwriter. Split into four EPs – one each for ballads, pop songs, rock tracks and commercial country numbers – Songwriter aims to show off Marx’s versatility in multiple genres. While it accomplishes this goal, it does so at the expense of a well-rounded listening experience. There is some good material here. The pop EP contains "Same Heartbreak, Different Day," with its blippy percussion, spare production and lyrics of lost love that never quite goes away. It’s a song that could have been a hit at any point in the past 35 years.
The rock EP has the best material on the album, including "Just Go" and "One More Yesterday," two great melodic-rock songs reminiscent of the material that made people fall in love with this guy’s music. It’s also got "Shame on You" (with cracking drums from the late Taylor Hawkins and a wall of guitars that makes Marx’s vocal seem extra snarling) and "My Love, My Enemy," written with Marx’s old touring buddy Matt Scannell. The country EP is straight commercial country music – stuff that Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan might sing, but old-school souls like Cody Jinks and Tyler Childers wouldn’t touch. Of these, "Misery Loves Company" sounds most like a jukebox hit already, and not just because it takes place in a bar: Lyrically, it’s one long come-on, the kind of thing made for bar jukeboxes.
The ballads EP consists mostly of swoon-worthy piano songs; "Never After," a midtempo acoustic guitar-forward track, is a keeper in part because its instrumental mix stands out from the other keyboard-centered material. Spot-on vocal harmonies and a tasty guitar solo don’t hurt either.
At a time when people often engage with music by programming individual playlists, it might seem pointless to complain that Marx’s compartmentalized presentation makes Songwriter sound less like a cohesive album and more like four sets of well-produced, like-genre demos. Still, whittling it down from 20 tracks to 13 and juxtaposing songs from across these EPs would have made Songwriter a better overall listening experience.