Rick Astley may have dabbled in rock and roll in recent years by collaborating with Blossoms and Foo Fighters, but deep down he’s happier than ever with his pop star status.
The Never Gonna Give You Up hitmaker returns this month with his ninth album, ‘Are We There Yet?’, dabbling with Americana, soul and R&B on a collection of songs conceived during lockdown and released on the back of a massive US tour.
But speaking in RETROPOP’s November cover feature, Rick insists he’ll never get away from his roots. “I can never get away from the fact that I just make pop music, really,” he grins.
“I don’t mean that in any belittling or derogatory way, it’s just about the songs at the end of the day. However I’ve produced them or made them sound, within that production I’m never going to get away from the fact that I’m a pop singer.
“Even if I did an album of death metal covers, I’d somehow end up making it pop,” he laughs, nodding towards his recent antics that saw him deliver two iconic sets at Glastonbury – one on the Pyramid Stage and another with Blossoms.
“It was absolutely bonkers. The atmosphere in the tent was just insane,” he chuckles of the latter. “The Smiths were a bit Marmite, to be fair, and people were either devoted to them and their music or they couldn’t wait to get out of the room when the music was on. I don’t think there’s a massive middle ground, but it proves how those songs have lasted.
“You look out at the audience – young teens right the way through to the people who were there when the records first came out – and they’re singing every word.”
Speaking thirty years after his initial retirement from music, aged 27, there’s always a worry that history could repeat itself and Rick could turn his back on the spotlight once again. But with a fresh outlook, he maintains he can’t see himself doing that again.
“One of the huge differences now is that I’m sort of famous but pretty much not. I’m kind of famous if someone brings me up and says ‘Never Gonna Give You Up, Rick Astley, there he is’. You can make that connection, but I’m not famous if I’m just going into a supermarket,” he smiles.
“So yes, I do get recognised a little bit and even more so since we did Glastonbury and it was on the iPlayer. But I’m not really famous in the way that I was towards the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s. Also, I was a hell of a lot younger. I didn’t really have much experience of life in any shape or form and stepping away from it was kind of the only alternative for me at that time.”
After global success as part of Stock Aitken Waterman’s Hit Factory, Rick’s star began to fade as he approached his fourth album, with the singer joking: “Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like I was at the peak of my career or anything when I walked away. It wasn’t like people were going to be desperately upset at the record label if I said, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore’ – I’m sure they were maybe quite relieved to some degree.”
But after returning to the top of the charts in 2016 with his comeback LP ’50’, Rick is no longer chasing success. “With music and stuff, I think I’m done now – meaning I don’t feel the need to achieve anything more and I think that relates back to not understanding what the music business is anymore and what is considered success. Obviously, playing the Glastonbury Pyramid Stage is a certain level of success and you can say to yourself, ‘Yes you are there, you’ve just done the biggest stage you can play on’. But without me getting too deep about it, with the human race I don’t think it ever stops.”
Interview: Simon Button
Read the full interview in the November 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.