First Official Review of SWEAT!

December 8, 2009 by  

Alan Ilagan is a prolific writer/photographer/model/blogger who has written for numerous magazines.  We share a love of Madonna – and I found him several years ago through some of his writings about her. At the time, I wrote to him and asked him if he would consider reviewing Stirred Not Shaken.  He graciously agreed and wrote a wonderful, in depth review.  So Alan was one of the first people I asked to review SWEAT.  He posted the review today on his blog (Thanks, Alan!!) and can be viewed here.

It is also reprinted below.

Let the Music Move You

Review of Mike Rickard’s ‘Sweat’ by Alan Bennett Ilagan

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‘Sweat’ is more than the title of Mike Rickard’s latest CD – it’s also a compelling command – and Rickard works it out with a pumping collection of rock-and-blues-inspired pop. {Photos by Jay Rickard}

Music has always gone hand in hand with physical exertion. A requisite accompaniment to dancing and working out, it has inspired and motivated almost everyone at some point, from amateur gym bunnies to gold-medal Olympians. (It’s rare to see an Olympic athlete without an iPod in their ears before an event.) Whether it’s a soaring guitar melody, a driving beat, or a prowling bass-line – all have conspired at one time or another to move us in some way – and that motion is what Mike Rickard has captured on his new album, Sweat.

“The last few years have been about learning to live life to the fullest, to get the most out of each moment, to keep my relationship with my partner fresh and exciting, and to balance the demands of daily life with some fun,” Rickard claims. “To do all of that, it takes effort – and sweat. I think those are things anyone can relate to.”

The album cover art goes for a more masculine ‘Let’s Get Physical’ vibe, with Rickard showing off some decent guns in a sweaty tank. The music has a bit more muscle too, displaying a development in strength and heft, richly aligned with its title metaphor. Rickard has progressed impressively since his last outing, 2004’s Stirred Not Shaken – the music this time around is bigger, faster, stronger and better. While it may sacrifice some introspection because of this, it’s also a more fun record, forgoing darkness for celebration, and embracing the simple joys to be found in everyday life.

Opening track ‘Wild Blue Beautiful’ is driven by guitars and the hopefulness of Rickard’s awestruck voice as he gives thanks for all that he’s been given. It sets the upbeat tone for the album, which continues with ‘Anything of Nothing’, a self-empowering anthem that finds Rickard taking charge:

It’s time to make a change, so I’ll push, I’ll pull, I’ll plead
And if that’s not enough, I’ll love, I’ll fight, I’ll bleed
I’ve come to realize that the choice is up to me
Fate can take care of itself, I’ll make my own destiny

‘When the Hot Cools Down’ may be the new Theme for Monogamy, as Rickard ponders the ins and outs of a long-term relationship. An undertone of world-weary blues runs throughout the song, particularly in the guitar solo, giving poignant accompaniment to some hard-won wisdom:

We’ll beat the odds,

Yeah I know we can.
When things start cooling off,

You know we’ll heat them up again.

When it’s not so new and the shine wears off,
When you’re just not sure and I think I’ve had enough,
I won’t turn and run and I know you’ll stick around.
I know we’ll be here when the hot cools down.

Title track ‘Sweat’ is a dirty, gritty, funky romp with a wicked bass-line. It could be the start of a heavy dance grind or a sweaty session of sex, or maybe just a healthy, harmless bit of mindless fun. Either way, this music will move you.

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The midsection of the album offers a respite as Rickard slows things down. In ‘Crawling’, he wonders just how far he has come, and, more importantly, how far he has to go. There is reluctance in his voice, but resignation and resolution as well, as he sings:

I’m longing for the day
When the demons and the noises
Will just forget my name
And someday lose their voices

I’m crawling
Towards comfortable.

One of the album’s highlights, and perfect for the holiday season, is ‘This Time Last Year.’ With its timeless sense of bittersweet longing, regret, and the many aches of a love remembered, the song forms the perfect vehicle for Rickard to give his most soulful delivery on the album. It’s a tearjerker, but the music eases the pain – its gentle ebb and flow a form of healing in itself.

Rickard doesn’t milk the melancholy, diving right back into the giddy flow with ‘Just Like New’, as the song slinks along with a wink and a vamp, both decrying and accepting the challenge of, well, a challenge. Its bluesy bounce is a neat bridge to ‘Stupid Stuff Like That’, which perfectly encapsulates the breezy, effervescent feel of most of the album. He takes the simple motions of a day, crafts a musical poem, and imbues it all with the tenderness and love that most of us forget to appreciate:

Kiss me in the morning to start the day off right
And I’ll tell you that I love you before we say goodnight
But those are just two bookends on either side of sleep
What matters most is what we do with all that’s in between.

You call me through the day just to say hello
And if I have to work late I call to let you know
We always eat together, take the dogs for a walk
It gives us time to laugh, it gives us time to talk.

It’s just a little bit of give and take
The simple things that make or break
The glue that holds it all together
Oh, I know there’s nothing better
Than stupid stuff like that.

Rickard closes the album with the befitting ‘Goodnight’, leaving things on a delicate note – the sigh at the end of the day, or the cool-down after a hearty work-out. It’s a love song doubling as an examination of faith – the crux of so many great songs – and arguably what Rickard does best. With Sweat, Rickard goes for action instead of reflection, focusing on movement rather than still contemplation. When the sounds are as powerful as this, it’s easy to go along for the ride.

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Sweat, the new album by Mike Rickard, is available here.

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Comments

One Response to “First Official Review of SWEAT!”
  1. JD Doyle says:

    Wow, and I have to say that both after listening to the album and reading this very well-written review. Not only is the album superb in the writing, singing and production, but it’s the meat of the overall message, or at least the way I take it, that gets to me. What I get out of it is that it’s a celebration of a relationship, and a celebration that does not take the relationship for granted, and acknowledges that it is work, but very worthwhile work. This album is real. Mike’s last album was very good, and this one shows remarkable growth. I look forward to see what his next will bring.

    JD Doyle
    http://www.QueerMusicHeritage.com
    http://www.OutRadio.com
    http://www.Audiofile.org

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