Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cher Paralyzes Her Chart Positions

When twice-divorced Cher faced facts and returned to music in 1982, it was the first of 4 schlock rock affairs and by far the best. Her 70s steam-engine pop songs seemed to be her calling card, yet Cher craved being wilder as well as having far softer singer-songwriter leanings. Her versatility is evident on I Paralyze, which can been seen to mark a new phase of how Cher was packaged and presented to music buyers. Whereas her next 3 albums would rely heavily on their boxer-in-the-ring style singles, this marks Cher's first mainstream album to consist of songs seemingly soley written for her. And it shows. Tom Kelly of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours and Madonna's Like A Virgin fame is on backing vocals.

Cher's vocals are fully developed and threaten all sorts of emotional upheaval. It has been argued that her voice was simply too big for the lead single, the 60s girlband pastiche Rudy, but it remains safely in my top 20 Cher songs of all time if not higher. Her swaggering style suggests the ghastly repercussions of romance and seems to cringe jokingly at her weaknesses to the man or lesbian called Rudy (it's probably her cleaning lady). Personally, I surrender all resistance when Cher is on form this good: the agony of being infatuated never sounded so painfully exhilirating. Its teeth-shattering production is an obvious nod to Phil Spector, but those guitars splinter and sting like lightning.

The fervently mellow Games is lovelorn and abandoned - Cher sings into the night. This could be a Pointer Sisters ballad with its sensual angst and melodic stencil. Whatever she is gargling whilst lamenting 'whatever it is it is' must be strong stuff: she sings so deep it is hard not to wonder if she is deep-throating the microphone or else a chainsaw. 'Don't you play them with me' is her final swipe.

Once a club singer, always a club singer. Cher can't help but sing from one side of her mouth at all times, but the smouldering hip-popping I Paralyze is pure Elvis. Its country-tinged grind is so visceral it's a wonder her vocal chords aren't sharp enough to shred timber. The song is notable for its gasping conviction and that it was produced by John Farrar and co-written by himself and Steve Kipner (Olvia Newton-John's Physical) - 'leave the modesty to someone else' abandons all responsibility. There is a throat-slitting gasp during the chorus. when cher quips 'you're as real as a dollar bill' her innate pronounciation manages to make the couplet rhyme. A fine showcase for her spine-snapping prowless.

The almost gospel-sounding pop song Walk With Me beams with swooning pride. I would love to hear Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud sing a song this good. The arm-swaying chorus is as nail-hammering as it is absolute bliss. Her steak-chewing vocal is at it's busiest and demanding.

Below: body-shy Cher mixes it up with her love for yoga dominating much of her early 80s photoshoots.
Her torch ballad crusade is not over as When The Love Is Gone is hands down amongst her top ten ballads of all time. Written by Desmond Child, it is hard to imagine some of the generic material he would subsequently submit. Her glass-cut vocal is one her clearest, and those husky tones give her grimacing credibility and a force beyond the boundaries of any known gender. Her sunset vocals are as incredulous as ever - her joy always cancels out the pathos, and 'there is a strength one gets when going it alone' let's one down easy.

Below: her career was left out to dry as were here clothes presumably - shot taken in 1980.
The pop-flavoured rockabilly-esque Say What's On Your Mind has vocal bite but it is biding time - good-natured filler but loose-wrist finger-snapping and toe-tapping pub rock is not my idea of paralyzing glamour. 'I may not be sober' is her well thought out defence for her whisky-led loose tongue (but does not explain her tell-tale lip licking addiction).

Her cover of The Babys' street-walking Back On The Street Again is the best ABBA-sounding pavement-pounding anthem and possibly the only one. Neon-glowing synths drips like a waterfall and a chugging bassline sweats it out under the spotlight. 'Here I am, I'm back on my feet again' is pretty much Cher's signature appeal. Her vocals thrash her lyrics like a food-blender but with less hesitance.

Below: Cher gamefully pulls back for the full facial.
The jittery The Book of Love is worth a million bad album tracks for the throwaway lyric 'hey-ho' inadvertantly being one of the familiar quirks used to impersonate her. The back-and-forth chorus gives decent friction, and Cher refuses to languish as she goofily heckles 'oh stupid cupid' - it isyet another drink-spitting high point in the same song which ought not to be so noteworthy otherwise.

The quiet raindrop vocals of Do I Ever Cross Your Mind are wiped away like oozing tears - Cher sounds uncharacteristically overcome. As closers go, this is up there with the unyeilding pathos of You Take It All and the meditative piano ballad Stars - her cleansing pressence and visionary torch ballads have saved the day once again. When Cher waffles on about 'that melancholy jaded by that time' it is the nearest she has ever came to employing a sort of stream-of-consciousness quality to her lyrics. To know what Cher is truly thinking has always baffled me and I am sure this is part of her inpenetrable mystique. Unlike other drumless ballads, say True Colours for instance, this song is breathtaking but never stark as it hovers as a smooth and smokey groove.

Below: Cher wonders if it is too late to fly to Malawi to buy a straight one.
Re-released in 1999, not owning this CD is a crime for any casual or die-hard fans alike. It manages to echo parts of her 60s and 70s trademarks and pass the baton on to her proper 80s comeback. Pre-occupied with a stint on broadway and reading Hollywood movie scripts, the album never became a hit but Cher has rarely sounded so inspirational.

Above: Cher performs for Joan Rivers on The Tonight Show in 1981 - I love Cher simply basking in the spotlight as the male singer serenades her.

There is no plundering second-guessing and 'paralyze' she succeeds with novel nostalgia, sassy country-tinged harmonies, melancholic vapours, feminine chivalry, romantic outbursts, and her rock items boast some of the highest price tags of her 5 decade career. Her vocal swoops are beginning to invite characature impersonations, but her wrestling charms ensure the album is another dramatic and spangling addition to the dark lady's remarkable oeuvre, and Cher's explosive sensuality has rarely been so vibranty on fire.


Mike said...

So much style and glamour in one post should be banned!!!

How utterly fabulous from beginning to end. One of your best posts.

PS. My verification word was "colon"! LOL

QH said...

This was probably my favorite review from you. Mostly because you combined factual expression with your acerbic wit. You're the only writer in your style I like, because you are funny, but smart.

Here, you shined because your knowledged of Cher's catalogue took the main seat to any of the acerbicity that normally would be found. It really made me interested in Cher, who I've always had a passing interest it. I see this record in a local record store often of late. I always felt Madge got her visual reinvention cues from Cher, and the musical ones from my main girl Donna Summer.

Either way, pretty cool. What do you think of that Cher album with the green cover and the snake?-Quentin

Diva Incarnate said...

What CAN I say about this post? I think there's a wild danger if you're going to be irreverent when writing reviews for artists like Cher, that it could come across really "queenie" as in person my humour is much more about my tone and expression, but in print the writer loses some of the authority and can't defend it immediately. I re-read this and don't feel bad, but there are some posts I have read back and thought I must have been on drugs or something. I think music can really suspend you from reality a bit, especially if you're looking for escapism and the words don't quite catch up to your imagination. ANYWAY.

I have started to write about It's A Man's World quite a few times, but it's on par with Stars as my favourite Cher album of all time - it's a very important record to me and whereas I wrote my Stars review whilst listening to it for the very first time, if I tried too hard to write about 'The Snake Album' (lol) then it would just be really long-winded.

I'd really recommend this album to you - it's a real gem, and avoids the blatant commercialism that her next two albums are horribly guilty of (only Love Hurts begins to let Cher breathe in amongst the formulaic anthems). I must point out that I do like most of Cher's 80s singles, but the next batch of album tracks are almost shocking in quality.

QH said...

You may get me into Cher yet. What was her first solo album without Bono, and what year did it drop? Is most of her work in print?-Quentin

Diva Incarnate said...

I will try and send you some Cher slices soon.

Her earlier 60s stuff is kind of hard to analyze as solid bodies of works (as in albums), but her Bob Dylan covers showcase her androgynous vibrato (Don't Think Twice, It's Alright is a huge favourite), and her own version of the Bono-written Needles & Pins and take on I Got To Sleep all marvelous, precarious and impossibly nostalgic. I find her bigger 70s albums (Gypsies, Dark Lady & Half Breed) rather uneven and un-artful, but the American top ten The Way of Love is so soft, plaintive and seductive.

Oh, and I'm sure I don't need to point this out, but The Snake Album was given an Rn'B rinse for America, and I have not really heard these versions as I love the European originals too much. It's A Man's World and Stars are so well-crafted, these are her masterpeices - they don't trade on her show biz ham in the slightest. Check out The Gunman - an outstanding recording by anyones standards.

QH said...

I bought "I Paralyze" last night after I copped my Gloria, after work, before class. I'll let you know what I think. I want "The Snake Album" (as it has now been dubbed, lol) next.-Quentin

Diva Incarnate said...

Hope you like it - When The Love Is Gone, Rudy, Walk With Me, Back On The STreet Again, and the sheer attitude of I Paralyze (the song Cher says she would like to re-do) and the rest are big draws. She was right to concentrate of films, it gave her career the necessary burst of life it needed to rejuvenate her status, but it's the a shame of course that she turned down all those roles in the 90s. Oh well, Cher comes in and out of fashion all the time.

QH said...

I loved it. I want more. "Games" had atmosphere, I was very impressed. The title track is like some of Diana's mid-RCA work, without the R&B rhythms, but nice. Very enjoyable.-Quentin

Anonymous said...

This album has lots of great songs, especially The Babys cover. Your Cher reviews are great with lots of hilarious quips. BTW, I think the lyric in "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind" is supposed to be, "that melancholy jailer, Father Time"...

Diva Incarnate said...

Thanks for bringing that song back to my attention. The album is in a different league to her other Geffen efforts bar their singles. I'll have to look up those lyrics - half Cher's charm is getting to impose a bit of a fiction, but she's larger than life enough to be the real deal at all times anyway.

Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

Daniel said...

Of the four albums Cher released in the '80s, I PARALYZE is the best. I love most of BLACK ROSE, CHER, and HEART OF STONE, but all of those albums have at least one song that I don't like... But I love every song on I PARALYZE. Shame that it's so darn short, and I wish it had at least one more song from the sessions with John Farrar, but it's a greally great album from start to finish.