There are two pretty easy questions for Rick Springfield.

How does he keep doing this?

Why does he keep doing this?

For the unlikeliest second time in the most improbable eight years, Springfield has put many of his contemporaries to shame with an excellent new album

The 63-year-old's new album is "Songs for the End of the World." It is superb.

I don't consider myself a Springfield "fan," especially of his familiar hit material. His hits were a little too obvious and softer pop than I would have preferred at the time. I wouldn't turn his stuff off if it came across my radar, but I wouldn't seek it out, either.

Until 2004's "Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance." I gave the album a spin because someone whose opinion I respect told me it was an excellent album. That person was right. I wound up making it my album of the year in 2004, which made me a hero among Rick Springfield fans and an idiot amongst much of the rest of the Internet. (Not that I minded, of course.)

Since then, Springfield has followed his peculiar muse with an album of covers (2005's "The Day After Yesterday," which should have been better than it was), a Christmas album, an album of lullabies, and 2008's "Venus in Overdrive," a collection of new material that didn't grab me much.

So I decided to give "Songs for the End of the World" a spin thinking more of the spectacular "Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance" than the follow-ups.

I'm glad I did.

For any number of reasons, as songwriters age, they sometimes lose what made them appealing to begin with. Attempts to be more sophisticated musically or lyrically may be done consciously, losing the spark of inspiration that made earlier work appealing. They may feel a need to make a lyrical statement. They may feel compelled to put too much into each song. And they may feel silly following basic three- and four-chord, verse-chorus-solo-bridge structures.

And sometimes you're just too tired to play fast anymore.

Fortunately, Springfield ignores all these possibilities. That's not to suggest the songs are "simple." They're just nice rock-and-roll songs, mostly things to which you can tap your feet, a few (the comic and catchy "I Hate Myself,"  the fantastic "Wide Awake") where you can holler the chorus along with him. (This is an interesting video using "Wide Awake.") And I love the eye for detail in "Let Me In" where he takes his sleeping lover's hairband as he leaves to take a plane trip.

Now, I'm not going to pretend I know what the audience for this is. If you liked Springfield's 1980s pop-rock hits, this just seems to be a natural to me. Is that audience still interested in new music? I don't know.

(That's the reason I ask "why" Springfield keeps doing this. I'm so impressed he's adding to his catalog instead of coasting on his hits, as so many of his MTV contemporaries do. But it's almost a guarantee that "Songs for the End of the World" will not find the audience it deserves. It's not nostalgic, and it rocks waaaay too much for "adult-oriented rock" radio formats.)

And just the fact that he's able to produce something this soild 40 years into his recording career is amazing. That's the "how" question.

This will make my year-end best-of list. I hope it shows up on some others' too.


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