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-