Personnel: Rick Springfield (guitar, background vocals); George Bernhardt, Tim Pierce, George Nastos (guitar); George Doering (acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin); Steve Stokes (banjo, violin); Craig Eastman (fiddle); Jim Cox (keyboards); Jorge Palacios (drums, percussion); Chariya Bissonette, Joshua Bissonette, Matt Bissonette, Buddy the Dog, Brandon McGee, Robbie Wyckoff, Windy Wagner (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Justin Niebank.
Recording information: East West Studios, Hollywood; The Black Lagoon, Malibu; The Recovery Room, Amaheim Hills.
Photographer: Jay Gilbert.
Arranger: Jeff Silverman.
Rick Springfield released the big, bold Songs for the End of the World in 2012, just before he received a boost in credibility from Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters leader featured Springfield in Sound City, his 2013 feature-length love letter to classic rock, and while its accompanying soundtrack wasn't a smash, it did help shift the conventional wisdom on Rick Springfield. Now, he was celebrated for his power pop and arena rock, two things that helped him land a plum role in Jonathan Demme's 2015 film Ricki and the Flash, where he played a puppy dog foil to Meryl Streep's aging lead. Springfield knocked his role out of the park, allowing himself to be vulnerable and funny, two qualities he sometimes avoids on record. Happily, Rocket Science -- the 2016 album that is his first since the great Rick renaissance of the 2010s -- finds the rocker acting looser than he's been in years, letting his gift for the frivolous sit alongside his yen to explore his spiritual side. These two sides complement each other, not merely as themes but also within the songs themselves: his sober songs are leavened by a light touch and the good times benefit from his disciplined construction. Springfield also samples several different sounds -- he stomps along on a back porch on "Miss Mayhem," ratchets up the energy for a bit of Celtic singalong on "All Hands on Deck," dabbles in R&B for "(I Wish I Had A) Concrete Heart" -- but the songs that hit the hardest are the ones where he gives himself over to his knack for surging power pop. The two opening cuts -- "Light This Party Up," a leftover from Ricki and the Flash, and "Down" -- may be the most indelible tunes in this vein, but Rocket Science works so well because Springfield allows this sense of joy to coarse through the record, a palpable energy that helps turn this into one of his best latter-day albums. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine