In 1988 ears pricked up in living rooms across the Western Hemisphere as Robin Beck’s voice erupted with a sexual passion not usually associated when families are sitting down to eat their evening meal. The song was First Time and it was being used in an advert by Coca-cola, it succeeded big time where Pepsi failed by having Michael Jackson act unconvincingly in their commercials. Beck may have been a jingle-singing queen in America, but this was her song and when released as a single it rocketed up the charts, even hitting number one in the UK. More hit singles followed in places like Germany, and a healthy career was to be had singing and writing, playing live and sessioning too, then sidestepping things for a while by marrying House of Lords singer James Christian and raising a family.
Now she’s released a new record on HMMR Records /Cargo Records in Europe. Not a comeback, but for all intents a personal reappraisal of where life is at the moment, while apparently of her own accord deciding to strike out from mainstream record labels and their demands to pigeonhole her, there is a streak of independence present in her latest album Underneath, despite a number of co-writes, and often with those more closely associated with the modern pop industry. Indeed, the critical response to this record has been pretty positive all over so far.
That said; we’re on familiar AOR rock territory here for the most part albeit given a new millennium edge with rawer guitar sounds, and Ms. Beck’s larynx being a little more earthy if not guttural as its aged like a fine wine – though fear not she can still whoop and holler, scream, hit and hold a pitch perfect note whenever she wants.
Chugging chords swing heavily into a hard belting country and western tinged rocker as opening number Wrecking Ball is sung with sassy grit and reveals lyrically where she’s heading in this record. The more mid-paced Ain’t That Just Like Love comes next and dips deeper into that new country sound then the unlikely titled Sprain hits the ground running and your ears prick up; heavy pumping bass with guitar and synth lines flirting in and out underlining Beck singing about what initially sounds like a typical ex-lover putdown but then reveals itself as the bitterness of being played around with by record companies, as she pushes all the right buttons mocking with the unfinished turn of phrase “You ain’t all that…”
Big ballad and title track Underneath reveals the calmer moments of a woman riled. How most people perceive us, whether or not we have a career that gives us a public image, tends to be one sided and while we may act tough and pretend we know where we’re going and with whom in our lives, sometimes even the most hard-nosed amongst us possibly has doubts and fears.
Call me sexist or even ageist, but I can well picture a small group of ladies, former rock chicks as they would have proudly titled themselves or might still do, getting ready for a much needed Friday night out together knocking back a few bottles of vino beforehand, playing this record out loud and singing along as each of them invests a personal memory that suits one song or another.
Catfight rocks out with jealous rage but only just avoids straying towards the corny side, Check your Attitude has a now aged new wave quality, Burnin’ Me Down proves to be a family affair with Christian – who’s not only produced, co-written and played on Underneath – singing a duet with his wife, and their daughter Liv on backing vocals. “It’s a family affair” says Beck. “We just happen to be a family whose foundation is solid rock!” That never more obvious than the metal rush with Perfect Storm with vocal hook lines a plenty and a fine guitar solo (something there’s possibly too few of on the record)… Ballads and rockers with a female point of view, there are times with the slower songs where you know a massive budget allowing for a full orchestra could have made take them to that overblown level suitable to be picked up as part of a movie soundtrack but pretty much all the songs could be played on an acoustic guitar and the same message got across by Robin Beck, thus proving talent can still win out in the end.