29 November 2018
Rise Up is Sir Cliff Richard’s 104th album release and heralds yet another reinvention from the ultimate chameleon of rock and pop. Incredibly, it is his first album of entirely original tracks since 2004’s fantastic Something’s Goin’ On, a perennial personal favourite of mine, though Soulicious, another big personal favourite, released as recently as 7 years ago, only had 4 covers on it and shouldn’t be overlooked as a covers album at all, but for the sake of not arguing with the great man I’ll concede that I know what he means and agree that he last released an album of brand new material an amazing 14 years ago. The wait was worth it.
Rise Up opens with the track of the same name and the listener should be able to instantly recognise that something just a bit different is happening, though the surprise is that one of the song’s writers, Terry Britten, is known to generations of Cliff fans for writing Devil Woman, a massive hit for Cliff in 1976, from the ‘comeback’ album I’m Nearly Famous, and many more. The other writer is Graham Lyle (of Gallagher and Lyle fame). The pair won a Grammy for What’s Love Got To Do With It in the 80s, which was reputedly written with Sir Cliff in mind and ended up in the hands of Tina Turner. Ah well Cliff, you can’t win ‘em all and Tina doesn’t do a bad job of it!
I have to admit that when I heard that Rise Up, the title track, was going to reflect the last four horrific years Sir Cliff has suffered, I fully expected a ballad. Imagine my surprise when I heard it for the first time and discovered a pop/rock song. Given what Sir Cliff has been through, which is well documented elsewhere and doesn’t need me to rehash it, I thought a ballad where Cliff would pour his heart out would be the thing, but instead we get an up-tempo, vibrant pop/rock song with a distinct edge. The fact that anyone who knows a thing about Sir Cliff knows that he is no pushover and won’t be pushed around by anyone, shines out in the lyrics and the message is bright, upbeat and typically optimistic. The fact that the track also recently topped the vinyl single and physical singles charts has probably done it no harm at all too.
Track two, Reborn, was co-written by another familiar name to Cliff fans, Chris Eaton, who is probably best known for writing Sir Cliff’s Christmas number one of 1990, Saviour’s Day, but has also written many more Cliff tracks through the years. The other writer is another familiar name to Cliff fans, Steve Mandile, Again, I expected a ballad and got something else entirely, a track that is quite possibly the best single Cliff has released for a few years. It’s just a shame the fans flat refusal to download and stream has prevented it being the hit it deserves to be. Listen to Cliff’s impeccable vocals and the clever use of strings on the track. Just perfection.
Track three is the one and only duet on the album. For Everybody’s Someone, written by Martin Sutton and Chris Neil, Sir Cliff has teamed up with his dear friend Olivia Newton John. A beautiful, rich ballad, the song suits Sir Cliff’s and Olivia’s voices to perfection. The song, which sends out messages of all of us being important and of value, is poignant anyway, but it has an added poignancy when you think that both Sir Cliff have been through the mill, Sir Cliff for reasons I don’t need to explain and Olivia with her recent diagnosis of cancer for the third time. I have no hesitation in saying that Everybody’s Someone is Cliff and Olivia’s finest duet, check it out.
Track four, the delightful Gonna Be Alright, was written by Peter Wright, Ben Robbins and Steve Balsamo. Steve Balsamo’s late mother apparently told him when he was a young child, when he used to sing little songs he’d made up when she was putting him to bed, he would write something for Cliff Richard one day. How right she was. Gonna Be Alright is catchy and fun, but it also carries a strong positive message. A word of warning, you will get the chorus stuck in your head. Just go with it, it’s easier that way!
Track five is the stunningly beautiful Stardust, written by Anna Krantz. If you detect that it might be my favourite on the album, you would possibly be right, today anyway. For me Sir Cliff employs a technique he used to great effect on Devil Woman, where he sings the verses in the way he sings a ballad, the way I refer to as his ‘singing in your ear’ voice, but in complete contrast he let’s himself go in the chorus. The result is very definitely something special I could listen to over and over again. The arrangement of the song fits in beautifully with Sir Cliff’s intensely emotional vocals. On a level playing field, where Sir Cliff got the respect he deserves, Stardust would give him a whole new audience. It is stunning.
Dancing Into Nightfall is track six written by Jamie Hartman and Shridnar Solanki. You won’t sit still whilst listening to this one, it’s infectious! If I can dance across my kitchen to it in my wheelchair, you can get up on your feet. For me it does have a little bit of an eighties feel, but that isn’t to say it’s dated. It’s just great fun and very catchy. It would be wonderful performed live.
Track seven, River Flow, written by Henk Pool, Joona Pietikainen and Mickey Skeel Hansen, is one of the biggest surprises on the album. I defy anyone to come up with another Cliff song that sounds even remotely like this. It is dramatic, edgy and I think will surprise people who think they know what Sir Cliff does. Engaging quite a low, dark delivery on the verses, Sir Cliff uses some of his upper register to fantastic effect on the chorus, yet another one that will get stuck in your head. To me there is a little bit of an Indian feel to the track, which suits it down to the ground. In the days before streaming, downloading and discrimination on the basis of age, River Flow would have made the most fantastic single. It is another one that should bring Cliff a whole new audience.
Track eight is the glorious Wide Deep and High, the second track written by Chris Eaton on the album. For many years Sir Cliff has put the occasional gospel, or rather ‘rockspel’ track on secular albums, starting with Such Is The Mystery on I’m Nearly Famous in 1976. Quite rightly in my view, he has taken the approach that he can’t separate himself from himself, and his faith is integral to his life. On Wide Deep and High Chris Eaton has written a song with relatively simple lyrics that are strangely (or maybe not so strangely) powerful, but the real magic is in the arrangement and in the delivery. What we have here is a song with no reference to God or Jesus at all, in fact, apart from the odd line, the song could quite easily be a romantic love song, but I don’t think it is. The song has a wonderful anthem feel that really seems to fit with Sir Cliff’s deeply moving, personal performance. Listen with your heart.
There’s One, written by Don Mescall, Carl Falk and Sharon Vaughn, is track nine. Written with a bit of a bluesy feel, this beautiful ballad needed two listens before I could decide whether I loved it or not. On the second listen I really loved it. The delicate piano on the verses and the bigger arrangement for the chorus works like a dream. Vocally it is another impeccable, tender, heartfelt performance. Just delicious.
Track ten, That’s What The Night Is For, written by Jon Green and Phil Thornalley, is utterly delightful. Another one that begs to be done live, Sir Cliff sings his way through the song with a real sense of joy. Sublime vocals and a gorgeous arrangement in a style reminiscent of the doo-wop songs Cliff has performed live at times, make this one irresistible. Definitely another one to get you up on your feet.
Track eleven, Everything That I Am, was written by Martin Sjole, Sigurd Rosnes and Tom Nichols. A deeply tender love song, Everything That I Am is a song with a story, a style that Sir Cliff has used to wonderful effect many times before. A song about a man’s journey through the seasons of life with the one he loves, Sir Cliff sings with typical emotional awareness and intensity. It is yet another beautifully arranged song that suits Cliff’s voice to perfection.
The twelfth and final new track on the album is Chris Eaton’s The Miracle of Love. I know some people convince themselves that Sir Cliff puts a Christmas song out every year, but he doesn’t. Is three Christmas number ones in sixty years a lot? I don’t think it is. Either way, The Miracle Of Love has the makings of another Cliff Christmas classic, and best of all, there isn’t a sleighbell in sight! A song about the real meaning of Christmas, Sir Cliff’s warm, rich vocals, compliment the simplicity of the lyrics to perfection and lift the song to a completely new level. I find it surprisingly emotional to listen to. It’s glorious.
Added to the twelve new tracks on the album, Warner took the decision to rework four Cliff classics with backing from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Minute You’re Gone, Miss You Nights, Devil Woman and Some People. Some would argue, I’m sure, that these seem like a strange edition to a new album, but given that a number of the new tracks include orchestral passages, I think they fit in well. It is strange that in many ways they seem to trick the brain into thinking Sir Cliff re-voiced the songs, but he didn’t. The Minute You’re Gone is lifted very much by this re-working into something quite special. Miss You Nights, a thing of beauty anyway, could have been similar to Sir Cliff’s live performance on Dressed For The Occasion with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 80’s, but it is completely different and quite beautiful. Devil Woman reminds me a bit of a James Bond theme and Some People is just brilliant any way you do it.
Produced by Rupert Christie, I would highly recommend Rise Up to anyone, whether established Cliff fan or someone just discovering him. Open your ears, put the prejudices in the bin where they belong and just listen.