When you’re Bryan Adams, with fifteen studio albums under your belt and countless chart hits around the world – not to mention a string of platinum records in your Canadian homeland – you don’t really need to make any more music. You can afford to sit back, take in the mountain views and have a coffee.
But Bryan Adams has the bad boy look for a reason. He’s always guaranteed to surprise us. And so, in 2022, in the wake of a pandemic and amidst an actual war, the Canadian musician released So Happy It Hurts, his sixteenth studio release. For a rocker from the ‘80s, you might be forgiven for thinking his newer material must be mellower, lacking the bite or edge that made the man so, well, reckless.
But So Happy It Hurts is one of his best post-2000 releases – no mean feat given how solid 2019’s Shine A Light was. The album’s opener, the title track itself, is sickly sweet, but far from cloying. It’s a track that just grows and grows on you, resulting in one of Adams’ most infectious tunes yet, the right balance of pop and rock. The drumbeats are almost Bob Rock levels of thunder, all the while sticking to that cheesy sentiment at the heart of it all – which, especially now, seems defiant, in place of ignorance.
‘Never Gonna Rain’ showcases the musician’s more ambitious side, with a full gospel choir behind him. It’s one of the most contagious songs on the record, and optimistic to the last. ‘You Lift Me Up’, meanwhile, sounds like the love child between Shine A Light and 1991’s titanic Waking Up the Neighbours.
‘I’ve Been Looking For You’ is little more than a reskin of Get Up’s ‘You Belong To Me’, but just about wins the battle. I’m a sucker for Adams’ short, sweet, rockabilly songs – and this has a real kick to it, a curt cut to the jugular. The final single from the album, ‘Always Have, Always Will’, is sadly the first sign of filler on the record. It’s perfectly listenable but doesn’t quite hit the mark like Adams suspects.
‘On the Road’, a song commissioned by tyre company Pirelli – the annual calendar for which Adams was photographer for, most recently – is a testament to what makes Bryan songs great. A fast car, unlimited ‘gas’ and no particular place to go. It’s far from the album’s pinnacle, but just as distant from the weakest moment.
Side two of So Happy It Hurts opens with the inimitable John Cleese – Adams channels his inner Bon Scott as Cleese gives a sermon on the lack of rock music in the world today, where only one man can change that. ‘Kick Ass’ is a shot to the heart, a defibrillator of Canadian origin. It’s wonderfully over the top, and, well, kicks ass. I can tell this one’s fast going to become a classic live.
Perhaps the heaviest moment on the record comes in the opening of ‘I Ain’t Worth Shit Without You’, though the rest of the song relents somewhat. It’s one of my favourites all the same, and once again that explosive drum sound comes straight out of Reckless. It’s a sheer barrage for latter-day Bryan, and the ultimate testament to post break-up blues.
‘Let’s Do This’ proves a generic rocker at this point, but nevertheless packs a strong backbeat that’s just enough to pull you through. ‘Just Like You, Just Like Me’ is reminiscent of most middle-of-the-road Bryan ballads. So Happy It Hurts is plagued, like a lot of records, from a weaker second side – a point that becomes all too apparent until we reach the next track, that is.
‘Just About Gone’ has been kicked about since before 2015’s Get Up, and honestly it would have made the record even better. But Get Up’s loss is SHIH’s gain. It has a quasi-country vibe to it, and – once I get past the mental image of Shania Twain bellowing it out – becomes one of the album’s hidden gems.
Adams’ sixteenth studio release closes with ‘These Are the Moments That Make Up My Life’, the big, sentimental farewell. It suffers from some of the generic bugbears of Adams’ recent releases, but I respect how personal the track is to the musician, and I can see myself getting lost in the ethereal reflection of it after one too many Kopparbergs. It’s a fitting end, perhaps, to the rumbling clatter of the title track. ‘Old friends turn to ashes/ But love perseveres’, after all, is one hell of a lyric.
All in all, it’s obvious Bryan Adams is never going to put out another Reckless, or match the playful pop grin of 18 Till I Die. But you wouldn’t expect another Slippery When Wet from Bon Jovi, or Hysteria from Sheffield’s own Def Lep. So Happy It Hurts is still sonically sound – from some of Adams’ best ballads in recent years, to his most guitar-heavy moments. It makes this ‘80s-loving, long-haired twenty-something engage in forty minutes of poppy bliss. Adams’ vocals are still strong as ever (which is more than some of the aforementioned acts can say), and his sense of humorous optimism has never been more apparent. And, perhaps, needed.