Sunday, 30 December 2012

Cher - Backstage (1968)

Backstage is the first major stylistic shift from Cher is also the first of her truly neglected albums. The album failed to chart and yielded no hit singles anywhere.

The bluesy opener Go Now is low key and moody. It totally puts Cyndi's Memphis Blues to shame. Its slow pace is a dream: the busy organ sounds, strings and smoldering guitar elements melting into something much more mature and restraint than before. Most of the covers are equally as successful. A real highlight is the subtle and soft textures of her dark Carnival. Her voice is impressive: rather than pouncing in loudly, it showcases in turn its husky prowess and capability for a softer, more rich approach. 

The dreamy equation It All Adds Up Now is a romantic vehicle. The simplicity of the ballad Reason To Believe is another bold stroke that pays off. "Knowing that you lied straight faced while I cried" flickers with a sentiment that Cher's delivering both because and beyond the lyric - her vocal expertise is well in truly coming into its own.

The brilliant Dylan cover Masters of War is deliciously cynical sounding. Seething slyly through a curtain of Indian influences, Cher sounds dry as ever but hugely passionate - her deadpan disdain is a thing of beauty. "And I hope that you die and your debt will come soon" couldn't be anymore brutal, until the final kiss-off. It plays perfectly alongside her more well known narrative songs.

She gets her stellar groove back on Do You Believe In Magic, and thank god for that. What is most impressive is that she's straddling between genres with an innate conviction that's accomplished without growling or sounding out of her comfort zone. Each song is sounding custom-designed. Her heavy flow continues on I Wasn't Ready, with more blues influences giving the groove more oomph.

Scaring the shit out of Dionne, A House Is Not A Home is dry and the production mimicking the splinters in a relationship, all the while Cher croons more smoothly than Jane McDonald polishing off a litre of gin in her bunker. Offering more still, Take Me For A Little While is girl-group heaven, supremely easy on the ears. "I gotta stop it." Those backing vocals are subtle but oh so effective. It's hard not to imagine her improvising some stand-still hand choreography whilst recording it.

The Impossible Dream pushes Cher to her voice-breaking limit.There are some unpleasant sounds here, but it's never any less than gripping. The musicality is lush and forgiving. The Click Song is just daft. I can't defend it objectively, but the bizarre choice of cover made it something of a Crickets Sing For Anamaria of its day. It would have sounded great as a dance number for Rita Hayworth in her 1953 film Miss Sadie Thompson. Ending on a terrific downer, Song Called Children is a dreamy piano ballad, with dashings of little twists and turns to its fragile melody and bare arrangement. I'd love to hear Cher sing this live as she is now - it's full of light and shade, and so sorry for itself at times. Exquisite. 

So there we have it. Cher's best 60s album, a flop. Her best 70s album, a flop, Her best 80s album, a flop. And so on. A commercial back-step, but a leap in maturity and interpretation. The songs are saturated in smoother grooves, moodier inflections and an overall sophisticated flair that make Cher herself sound like the sole reason the albums exists and not merely just lucky to be singing them.

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