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50
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  • Celebrating his 50th birthday with his first album in 11 years, Rick Astley has never seemed as subdued as he is on 2016's 50. Blame it on age: not only wouldn't the exuberance of "Never Gonna Give You Up" suit a man in his middle age but Astley's instrument has weathered with age, no longer quite as booming or insistent. Such changes actually benefit Astley, who is humanized by his years, especially as this light grit adds a little bit of heft to the immaculate adult pop of 50. His first set of original pop music since 2001's Keep It Turned On isn't especially in tune with the times -- it exists in an adult contemporary netherworld, sounding as if it could've been released any time between 1999 and 2016 -- but there's an appeal in how Astley settles into his voice and surroundings, allowing himself to indulge in a couple of ridiculous moments (the slightly bluesy, slightly stomping "Somebody Loves Me") but generally luxuriating in his high thread count. It's not camp: there's no sign Astley cares -- or is even aware -- of his status as a classic Internet meme. 50 is earnest, rooted in American soul, and crafted to British pop specifications, a formula that once brought Astley fame and still suits him well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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