To be honest, I wasn't quite sure where Rick Springfield would go next, as far as his musical career was concerned. After the aching darkness of 2004's SHOCK/DENIAL/ANGER/ACCEPTANCE and the unfulfilled promise of 2005's covers album, THE DAY AFTER YESTERDAY, I think it was anyone's guess. That's why VENUS IN OVERDRIVE, Springfield's strongest album in over two decades, is such a pleasant surprise. A lot has been said about how much the opening track, the high energy "What's Victoria's Secret?", sounds like "Jessie's Girl", and it's true, it does. But after repeated listens, the cut really does stand on it's own two feet. Strong vocals, punchy instrumentation and smart lyrics about the push and pull between the sexes all come together to form a strong opening track. Those strengths all continue with "I'll Miss That Someday." Springfield's vocals alternate between a purr and a scream, while the arrangement is whip-smart. Add lyrics that consist of both clever wordplay and sheer poetry ("One season, one reason/Screaming I won't say the words/Bite my tongue/Cause nothing lasts forever") and you have a gutsy song about the ins and outs of a relationship. The disc's title track is another winner. Picture Hall & Oates meets Pink meets 311.....and it works! This is probably as close to headbangin' as Springfield will ever get, but it's legit and it's fun. Toss in some quirky guitar riffs, some great backing vocals and honest lyrics ("I write words about it/But I doubt it"), and you have an abnormal, edgy love song that nevertheless works. "One Passenger" is one of only two tracks off of VENUS IN OVERDRIVE that just doesn't do anything for me. In this case, it's not that it's a bad song...it's just that everything else on the disc is so much stronger. Yes, the song has a nice melody, and Springfield's lead vocal is honest, earnest and even sincere, but the track ultimately feels like it's treading water, giving a "filler" vibe to it. And that's too bad....this disc is too strong to be saddled with any filler whatsoever. Far stronger is "Oblivious", one of two cuts penned about a young fan who has passed on. Part of this track's beauty is that it's a touchingly gorgeous eulogy, but it can also be seen as a powerful break-up song; the death of a relationship can be just as traumatic as the death of a loved one. Delivered with a hushed, delicate lead, aided by a soaring chorus, the words really hit home ("Forever is a long, long time/Forever/We'll be at rest/Until that day I'd rather be/Oblivious"). Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. "3 Warning Shots" is gut-wrenchingly intense. Springfield's anger over John Lennon's death (as well as, maybe, the current state of "stalkarazzi's") is palpable, rising to the top like a bitter cream. A heated lead vocal, an economical, yet precise, arrangement and tight instrumentation all blend together to form a track that hits you like an open palm across the cheek. Definitely one of Springfield's most powerful songs to date (Just an off thought....I would LOVE to see Joan Jett cover this song!). "Time Stand Still" is the other track that just doesn't do anything for me. Oh, sure, everyone can identify with the universal theme of aging ~ I LOVE the lines "MTV and shopping malls/Tell me that I'm growing old" ~ but, overall, this too is filler....in the "old days", this would have been track four on side two of the album. Far better is the Stones-drenched "God Blinked (Swing It Sister)." VENUS' most upbeat track, there isn't a single thing about this cut I don't like (Oh, O.K., the lyrics aren't PARTICULARLY deep.....!). From the spirited lead vocal to the good-time groove of the horn section, this exuberant workout would have been a huge hit twenty years ago....and still should be today! "Mr. PC" is a scathing rocker that nails both the media and talking head politicians to the wall. A frenzied arrangement keeps things moving along at an energetic pace, while Springfield's vocals get in your face with some insightful, spot-on lyrics: "Politician talking/And I know where to find you/Swinging from your branches/With your super careful phrases/Never taking chances." Yet another VIO high point! "She" has a classic vibe to it, sort of a mix of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. This mesmerizing love song just swells and swoops, soars and sizzles. Without a doubt, it's one of the best vocal workouts on VENUS...and Springfield is up to the task! I also love the poetic grace that some of the lyrics exhibit ("Spiritual bandages placed on a wound that will heal/Takes away all of my vanity/Clears up my sanity/Makes me the man I should be"). This is a love song for real, breathing adults. Very nice. "Nothing Is Ever Lost" is really more of a musical interlude than a song, but it works. A nice bridge between "She" and "Saint Sahara", the album's touching closer, this slice of melodic pop could have also easily fit onto a latter-day Beatles release, what with it's slightly airy/trippy groove, and that's saying a lot. Things wrap up with the aforementioned "Saint Sahara", a second (and sweet) ode to his departed fan (and friend). Featuring some gorgeous guitar work, the song is both uplifting and touching. Blessed with a strong lead vocal and thoughtful lyrics ("Come on, close the book and turn out the light/Put your plans aside tonight/Yeah, I know it's not wrong/But it sure isn't right/An angel bids a last "goodnight" to us"), this is a song of loss ~ and love ~ that everyone can identify with. And I think that's part of VENUS IN OVERDRIVE's magic....it's charming, it's fun, it's honest, it's REAL. If he keeps on making records like this one, Rick Springfield will be SO much more than just an 80's afterthought...he'll be an artist who still really matters. (As with all my reviews, I'm docking the disc half a star for not including the lyrics...did we REALLY need sixteen pages of photos of Springfield and his fans?!?!?).