Thursday, December 16, 2010

Review: Richard Marx “Stories To Tell”

80s balladeer Richard Marx is back with a new CD of sorts. On “Stories To Tell”, Marx doesn’t really present us with any new material, but rather acoustical reinterpretations of his earlier works. Some of the tracks are stripped down and/or tweaked versions of well known hits like “Endless Summer Nights”, “Should’ve Known Better”, and “Hazard”. Others are tunes Marx wrote that were made famous by other artists that range from boy bands like N’SYNC to country superstars like Keith Urban and Travis Tritt to modern rockers like Lifehouse and Daughtry. Since Marx dropped out of the spotlight, many people don’t realize he’s still been a very active and successful songwriter for other artists.

Marx still sounds great (a standout vocal is delivered on “One Thing Left”) and the unadorned acoustic guitar removes the 80s sound from his classics, leaving us with a fresh and more timeless sound. In short, his material sounds less dated. The production is immaculate with glistening piano, crisp fingerpicking, and radiant strumming on those acoustic guitars. My favorites on “Stories To Tell” include “Over My Head”, “Angelia”, “Loved”, and “Should’ve Known Better”, but the other tracks produce mixed feelings. His ill-fated venture into R&B territory with “Keep Coming Back” still sounds pretty drab when unplugged. And some of the songs included here were acoustic and slow to begin with, such as “Now and Forever” or “Right Here Waiting”, so there isn’t anything really new or surprising about them.

The seven bonus tracks that follow the eleven unplugged songs are those that were written by Marx and performed by others – a unique opportunity for fans to finally hear their beloved singer perform his own tunes. These songs are not unplugged and typically feature a powerful backing band – the arrangement is so close to the original that it often sounds like Richard Marx covering another artist. Nonetheless, these tracks are interesting to hear. While no Josh Groban, Marx does turn in a rather stunning vocal on “To Where You Are”. And hearing him do “Had Enough” and “On The Inside” builds confidence that Marx could be a viable modern rocker if he wanted to.

Devoted fans of Richard Marx are clearly going to appreciate this CD, but the more casual fan will probably wish he’d present something new. As for me, I think the first eleven tracks will get plenty of spins on those lazy Sunday mornings and I will hold out hope that he’ll comeback with an infectious modern rock sound next time.

iPOD-worthy: 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 13

Richard Marx on MySpace. Official site.

Listen to “Over My Head”