18 'Til I Die
The days of wine and stadiums long gone, the manly men of ’80s rock are now free to roam far less constricting musical pastures. John Mellencamp is tackling dance music; Bruce Springsteen is cruising the Tex-Mex border. For 18 ‘Til I Die, the perpetually clean-cut Bryan Adams has grunged up his look (out with the white T-shirts, in with neon-bright suits) and sleazed up his music. ”The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You,” the first single, sets the pace: With its scrappy guitar and lizardlike rasp, it sounds like Don Henley on a bender.
So it goes with much of the album: You’ll swear you’ve already heard these songs — or seen the videos — a hundred times on VH1. For ”You’re Still Beautiful to Me,” Adams literally morphs into the old, endearing Rod Stewart. For that Big ’80s flavor, he cranks out ”It Ain’t a Party…If You Can’t Come ‘Round,” which re-creates the lug-head charm of Eddie Money hits. Ol’ Bry not only name-drops Sting but even paraphrases him (”If you love somebody/If you want someone”) in ”Do to You.” The album also confirms that Adams’ most distinctive sound is no longer the air-guitar splendor of ”Run to You” but mawkish soundtrack-ready ballads like ”I’ll Always Be Right There” — written for a movie that doesn’t yet exist.
18 ‘Til I Die is hackwork, yet hackwork so upfront about its intentions and so eager to please that it’s hard to despise. For every cringe inducer like ”Black Pearl,” a laughably coarse ode to interracial lust (”I can still smell her sweet molasses/Running all over me”), there’s an effortless make-out ballad like ”Let’s Make a Night to Remember,” which would float on any summer breeze. At such moments you’ll forget the paradox that is Bryan Adams — a 36-year-old everyteen who sings lines like ”I don’t look good in no Armani suits” yet records in the south of France — and feel like you’re 18 again too. B-