Monday, 28 January 2013

Black Rose - Black Rose (1980)

After the commercial success of Take Me Home's disco, it made sense to go in a completely different direction. Her local outlaw 1%ers biker club. Well not quite, but joining a rock band called Black Rose was Cher's most stubborn attempt to become a rowdy rock bitch yet, and the results are pretty similar to her two biggest 80s albums that were yet to come at the other end of the decade. If this were any other artist's career path, it would be easy to assume the singer underwent something of an identity crisis in the previous decade (identity crisis? nope, not this plastic surgery addict), but her meaty charisma anchors all her endeavors with a weathered conviction that always means business. However, literally no one was buying it. Cher and her boys hit the road, and the era was a (Bob Mackie designed) dress rehearsal for subsequent material. Cher certainly isn't afraid to enjoy hoots more than hits: the album Black Rose is more corny than thorny, and her ambitious fight for rock stardom let's all her delicious mannerisms off the leash for some of her most unrestrained/strained performances yet. 

With its jaunty opening, Never Should've Started isn't as prophetic as you might think. Cher's breathless opening lines are haunting and utterly beguiling (even if it lacks polish), until she swoops in with a deliciously (and let's face it, butch) "hoooooOOOOOH YEAH" which activates the track kicking itself into gear. Gurning and grimacing her way through the chorus, with her band chanting on back-up, it's a pretty melodic outburst. I don't think this has ever featured on any compilation to date, but if I were dividing her decades into separate discs, this would open my 80s volume. The song was lip-synced on live television, which might not have been the best way to prove one's rock star credentials (note: the performance above IS live).

Cher's quaking bellowing on Julie is a full-on, swearing, chugging pub rocker. If anything, I can get a fix out of her frothing at the mouth style vocals, but this is not exactly one to name-check as a career highlight. "You lying bitch" always raises a smile if nothing else.

With her biker mama imagery, it was a concern that Take It From The Boys would turn out to be the singer pulling a train (of thought). Although it's incredibly cheesy, the track is surprisingly energetic and unleashes some incredible phrasing from our old gal. Cher handles it like a pro, "no slack". More rock overstatement, We All Fly Home ("don't feel the danger 'cause it's the only fuckin' stranger") isn't as turbulent as it could have been. I rather enjoy it as a more spastic counterpart to We All Sleep Alone, in the sense that it sounds nothing like it and takes a completely different stance.

Mixing easy rock with being easy, 88 Degrees "signs a deal for a whole lotta do" and "it's so damn hot" thanks for asking. A meddling mid-tempo sag for sure, but she had to catch her breath at some point. Cher's sedulous rock pursuit is easy to mock, but duetting with her band-mate on You Know It is sincere enough, even if the sound is somewhat homogenized.  Crow-barring a gentle ballad into the mix, Young & Pretty "gives up that old routine" and frankly both Cher (1987) and Heart of Stone (1989) could have done with a song or two like this as a third quarter album track.

On an album of big and barely controllable and identifiable emotions, it makes sense to blow off yet more 80s power-pop steam on the album's climax. Revving up manufactured Springstein riffs, Fast Company goes down in flames whilst pledging to "drink the fumes". The flair, fuel and economy of the album is at its glossiest here, and unsurprisingly it's one of my highlights. The image of Cher clinging on to her biker lover going 200 mph makes me imagine her wig going flying way up into the sky. Glamour has no speed limit.

Moving on from the kitsch carnage of Prisoner, personally I find Black Rose an easier listen than both Cher and Heart of Stone even if it lacks the gigantic peaks of either album.  Whether Cher's behaviour created scandal is before my time, but lyrically this more CHER than her 80s/90s Geffen trio. She sounds rather liberated here. The biker babe bruised and used pop axiom sounds instinctive enough for the question of Cher's integrity to be nonexistent, and it's also more eccentric than its blockbuster counterparts, which is often the highest Cher value of all - it's a cocktail of aggressive rock (that never quite goes full pelt), but with transfixing camp fascination. I can only imagine this was never truly expected to be a commercial success, which makes the project seem all the more impressive.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Cher Stuff

Taking a break from writing about her, I made a Cher montage of images (above) and clips (below).

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cher - Prisoner (1979)

Material girl

After being impregnated by the disco bug with Take Me Home, how fitting that it would take 9 months to deliver her next body of work. The explosive disco massacre Prisoner (of the press) didn't quite hold the charts hostage, but is certainly the more captivating of her deluxe disco duo from 1979. Cher rebelled somewhat and fought to include rock songs, indicating the direction that would soon dominate her style during the next decade (for better or worse). There are no sure shots, but the album is unquenchably Cher, where her eccentricities are cranked up higher than ever before, and her eyebrows (again, for better or worse, but I know which camp I fall under). On Prisoner Cher pleads insanity (mostly of others): the sensitive ballads are locked up, and this is a disco rampage from start to finish. You better sit down kids, this album is a huge favourite.

When Cher's career hit the skids, she hit the road ... to the disco.

Spending much of her career just singing in bars, not behind them, Prisoner is something Cher can handle in her sleep. This is like a faster, disco-fied version of the title track from her subsequent album I Paralyze.  That's my verdict and I'm sticking to it. The singer punctuates her lyrics with no discrimination, carries the whole affair without hesitation, and is aided by some super catchy "eeh-hey" backing vocals that join in like punters in one of those bars she's sung in when the good times got rough. Telling the truth and nothing but the truth, "oh you're such a wicked lover, but you do it like no other" is her final statement, but I'm not sure I believe her - we've all seen those National Enquirer and Rona Barrett's Hollywood front covers and headlines.

Worth the wait, Holdin' Out For Love argues discontent over the flesh-craving hedonism of Take Me Home's visceral fancy. With a voice that could slam doors, she plays it safe and submits to the smooth groove, which is both scintillating and rather funky. At the relatively tame end of the scale here, the song is sweetly romantic and no less tuneful. Easier to get into than a theatre showing Faithful (in a nutshell: boring film, but amazing wig). 

Going for broke on the retail therapy of Shoppin' is far from the album's highest price-tag, but "shop it! wrap it! send it!" along with Cher swiping the pain away with her credit card and a surge of distressed spoken word antics are the kind of spellbinding spending sprees I've always dreamed of. 

It wouldn't be the last time Cher clung on to the gays for support.
One of the rock songs Cher snuck in, the exhilarating Boys & Girls is one of the album's biggest bursts of galvanizing bravado. The shimmering rock charge that ignites the song has always been a delight, and the prog rock stomp has a whiff of Elton John to it's crusading showbiz glitz sheen. Cher's scrappy chorus almost trips over itself as she chomps through a bunch of idiosyncratic quips that require repeated listens to work out what they actually are, but it's a galloping sprint in its speed, dazzle and hectic force. The echo that promotes her final euphoric screams and wanton wails is one of my favourite Cher experiences of all time. Don't even ask me what it's about - "you can't spend a dollar if you ain't got a dime" and so on are just amazing pop statements to be enjoyed in a frenzy of similarly jam-packed and blurted out camp soundbites. I need to lie down just thinking about this one.

Calm inside the storm, Mirror Image is surrounded by songs full of louder and more brass antics. Casual and chic, it's an eloquent 'reflection' of Cher's feelings towards what can only be described as one of the most bizarre relationships a star has had with the press. I love that we have something fun and throwaway like this to soundtrack her outstanding achievements in fashion and image being so pivotal and yet unimportant to what she represents and who she truly is. It's all about conviction. Would I have the patience to listen to this song if it weren't Cher? Her authoritative charisma and ravishing vocal styling are everything - the disco tailoring is an easy fit, but it is her insatiable ability to flesh out and inject life into cliches, making every word ring true, that really boosts the immense charge of these songs as they really are so personality-fueled. 

Hell-bent on giving the album a rock slant, the very much disco-driven Hell On Wheels (US #59) fuses some thrashing guitars into the mix on what is an avalanche of Cher-isms. The thunderous chorus, with Cher's fiery gristle sharp like lightning bolts, is an amazing disco-rock storm that brews violently and comes pelting down on you. Squawking theatrically "Look OUT!" is the warning that's roared furiously as if insisting that you don't. In my head, it signifies a decadent crowd surf in the club just to make her way to the powder room.

Catchy as hell, both the lyrics and her vocals catch fire on the anthem of life Holy Smoke! It's a nervous overload of disco adrenaline. There certainly isn't smoke without fire, where Cher adroitly vents her mind and absolutely revels in tabloid carnage and scandal: "If I say go on and shove it, the media will love it - holy smoke!" Imagine Liza coked to the 9s in lycra dancing in Studio 54 - I can't picture a more perfect soundtrack for the unimaginable disco carnage such icons threw themselves into during this era. The lava-flow of disco excess is one big gay coma almost beyond resuscitation (hyperbole can't even come close to describing the pleasure in succumbing to the charms of this track).

Sarcasm-heavy Outrageous must have been something of a theme tune for Cher. Continuing the rough-minded self-survival mantras and rueful tint of Holy Smoke! the track isn't nearly as distracted by what others think of her as it might seem - the sensation is one of casual amusement without batting an eye-lid. The scolding guitar riff, excited jolts of piano and Cher's unmistakably unflinching mannerisms "create quite a racket" and there's no complaints here.

Prisoner may not be as elegant conceptually as Take Me Home, but it's more bold and, yes, arresting. Rather like Living Proof, it followed up an album that spawned a sizeable dance-geared comeback track, and did so with arguably more expense and eccentricity. Allegedly, Cher was hell bent on including rock songs and the initial tracklisting for disco album number 2 had completely vanished by the time a coherent set had been compiled. The disco that sounds like rock of Hell On Wheels and rock that sounds like disco of Boys & Girls and Holy Smoke! fuse together the concept combat at play here. One of Cher's biggest surprises and rewards. With the closing trio in particular, Cher ends her imperial 70s years with a huge bang of puffs, poofs and smoke.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Cher - Take Me Home (1979)

So do your searching until you're down

US #25, CAN #24

Album #15 from Cher drove her to the disco and jived her back into the charts. Take Me Home was released in early 1979 at the height of disco and peaked at #25 in the USA and was far too decadent to do anything else in any other venue (ie, country). Newly signed to Cassablanca, the label home of Donna Summer (who would later refuse to let Cher have her song Bad Girls when she wasn't keen on releasing it straight away), the album finds the singer in strong form in doing her best to ignite some pretty poor material in among the odd gem, but Cher and disco were a more natural fit than Chaz in size 22 dungarees. After all, what is more inviting than a husky drag queen in sequins asking you to go home with them? It was the first album to feature songs all specifically written for her.
Cher successfully promoted her song and album of the same name on her 1979 TV special Cher ... And Other Fantasies.

The whimsical disco rush of Take Me Home has been an enduring hit for Cher over the years in America, and the song was finally brought to the attention of the UK when Sophie Ellis-Bextor had the audacity to cover it and rile up nana Cher with a few disgusting additional lyrics (the vandalism in question "it's gonna happen anyway" was Cher's biggest upset since Angelica Houston beat her to the role in The Adam's Family. Cher's vocal truly glides, and the song is exhilaration personified. Asking for an argument, Wasn't It Good sips from the same cup, but doesn't quite have the same heat. Elevated by a truly compelling spoken word section: "Whoo! was it, was it really good? Oooh you loved it didn't you love it? Ho-ho god I'm so, grrrrrr, shoot I got it good! Ooh did you love it, did you dig it?Say The Word doesn't have much to say, and is a bunch of cliches given the generic disco treatment. Happy Was The Day We Met melts into the same arrangements as any other faceless disco track of the era, but at least she bellows a little on the chorus with a few cheery stop-starts to the rhythm.

It wouldn't be the last time disco would give Cher's career a leg up.
Blow-job queen anthem Git Down (Guitar Groupie) spits Cher's trademark rock venom and swallows a whole bunch of pseudo rock-raunch sounds. Cher cackling "shady lady from the ghetto" and "what a fuckin' reputation is gonna follow me around all over town?" is her best oral in years (okay, she might not swear, but I know what I'd rather believe in, etc). Such a hardcore performance might have had something to do with then-lover Gene Simmons' involvement. Love & Pain gets at least one of those qualities down to a tee, which I'll leave open to interpretation. Cher gets into it with real gusto and thunderous steel. Let This Be A Lesson To You is more mid-tempo disco jollies, but sounds more like a line-dancing class than Studio 54. It's Too Late To Love Me Now is a gentle country-tinged ballad (she has quite a few of those). Cher's the club singer at the ranch called Bar Nothing. The disco has faded, and Donna Summer wouldn't have lost any sleep over this one. My Song (Too Far Gone) clears the disco floor completely. It's a sad and rare co-write about her divorce from Gregg Allman (an ironic comedown then).

A jubilant commercial comeback, but what Cher has in store with her second round of disco is far more interesting.

Allman & Woman - Two The Hard Way (1977)

And they said it wouldn't last!

If Cher wasn't giving up on the singing malarkey, she certainly wasn't giving up her heroine-addicted husband, so why not combine her to biggest pleasures? Fortunately, love is the only drug here. Cher's 1979 disco albums were hardly the bold new direction no one saw coming. There were definite stepping stones in this direction: The Cher Show in '75 showcased the genre, particularly on a duet where Cher makes a compelling attempt to hold her own alongside Patti Labelle; and her solo covers of Rescue Me had a brisk dance pace and Knock On Wood illustrated a knack to soak up a wide array of influences, but still maintain her unique identity. One musical oeuvre that hinted at what was to come with her Cassablanca years is her rather baffling attempt to have another go at the husband and wife duo thing with her spouse of 4 years Gregg Allman. The album is also the last thread of the singer's tender soft-rock balladry, and what a discreet bow it is. Despite not charting and an outpouring of dismal reviews, Two The Hard Way has reportedly sold 500,000 copies worldwide.
Fingers crossed!

The cover You've Really Got A Hold On Me is a faithful one whether their relationship was or not. Like themselves, I'm a bit split on this one. Going together like cheese and a grater, their vocals sound decent if unspectacular on I Found You, Love. Cher let's loose a bit and the faceless discotheque grooves make me think of the classic films The Bitch and The Stud (how ironic). Move Me sounds like a lesser Heaven Must be Missing An Angel. Love's rueful strain is felt on Can You Fool, a sweet ballad resting on glimmering keyboards and country inflection. The corn is cranked high, but if you can get past it, the track is nice enough (her falsetto also makes a cameo). Proving everyone wrong, We're Gonna Make It was fighting a losing battle in more sense than one. The track itself has an engaging strut should one be that way inclined, and there's some emphatic hollering to no melody in particular. "I love you better than your own kid did" is Cher's proud boast on Do What You Gotta Do, one of the album's highlights. Sensual MOR slump In For The Night is more of those two blowing their own trumpet, with plenty of sax on the horizon if nothing else. Blowing his wad first, Shadow Dream Song is Greg's solo song. Cher's number, Islands, is a nice enough after-hours ballad. The voice is getting very masculine as the emotion wells up. The lump in her throat must have looked like the kind of Adam's apple Chaz has had his heart set on for years. I Love Making Love To You (aka, Are You Listening Sonny?) is one more funky disco-lite MOR number for the road ("I want you to fill me with your soul ... I love when you give it to me" etc). Love Me gives little reason to. However, Cher's final plea "please love me" is one the lingers with an obvious pathos.

Cher decided to nip their marriage in the bud.
Far from the disgraceful embarrassment it has often been made out to be. It may have been more of an attempt to airbrush their relationship, but Cher did go on tour with him and do her best to keep him in check, so it certainly serves as an uncomfortable document in that regard. However, despite the title, the album isn't done through gritted teeth and sounds pretty relaxed and tuneful enough for what it is and nothing more. It is certainly an album of camp limitation, and one to seek out at the end of one's Cher discography discovery. Taking a short and sweet journey through folk-disco, mid-tempo MOR, and yes, more torch ballads, the songs all drip from the same tap. Cher's smooth, hollering contralto is balanced by Allman's mumbled gravel (and thankfully he is less nasal than Bono). The conflict of their love is non-existent here, and the 'tart with a heart' narrative songs are gone. One for mild curiosity, but far from the sore disappointment as if often stated.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Cher - Cherished (1977)

Cherokees ... and other nightmares

If Cher's reunion with Sonny on TV land in '76 had done well enough, getting back together with Snuff the following year was a disaster. Failing commercially was nothing new, but to make a bad solo album was the kind of shock Cher can no longer express these days without 3 months warning (allegedly). Her career at this point may have been bumpier than her original nose, but you could never accuse her of not sticking those vampire teeth into everything she put her mind to, which is where Cherished ultimately fails. She wasn't keen on the idea of returning to her old narrative-style pop, and told her producer "it's not my bag anymore" which could explain why the material she ended up with didn't hold much weight. Snuff himself later described the album as "a nonentity". The Harry Langdon front cover re-instated Cher as the friendly gypsy with a history next door, but no one was buying it quite literally. The singer did not enjoy making the record, and the sense of deflation is evident. The album did not chart.

Pirate was a minor return to the top 100, peaking at a respectable #93, but the backtrack track finds no treasure whatsoever and Cher fails to seize any sense of the world-conquering form of her biggest hits from the decade. Truly criminal, etc. A quick scan of all (*echoes* ALL *echoes*) the men who have been in Cher's life (except for the one that sold bagels in the late 80s) haven't exactly warranted any ballad called He Was Beautiful. Like most of those relationships, the question of bad judgement and of when it will end loom large. Cher bellows bizarre cautionary tales where a blue-eyed Cherokee rebels against "the tribal laws" (War Paint & Soft Feathers), and a secretary turned human mattress rock-star groupie who "always wakes up alone" (She Loves To Hear The Music). Clearly cut from the same cloth as Half Breed and Dark Lady, but the material was wearing out and thin. L.A Plane is more of a car crash. To offer faint praise, Love The Devil Out of Ya and Again are minor highlights. The former wakes up with someone about to do a runner on her. "Poor white trash" ballads Dixie (droppin' her hot cottons on the floor), Send The Man Over and Thunderstorm (with its porch-light sex cues) are yet more whore bore. I'm convinced Snuff Garett and his songwriters were misogynists by this point.

Cher's first attempt to turn back time was a gigantic miss-fire. The songs are pale imitations of her 70s number 1s, and simply don't warrant much discussion as far as I'm concerned. Nope, nothing to see here. I wonder if a duets album with a heroine addict will do the trick? NEXT!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cher - I'd Rather Believe In You (1976)

After Stars fizzled out on the charts seemingly without anyone really noticing, I'd Rather Believe In You offered a subtle compromise. She still got to exert her rock ambitions somewhat, but some old-school Cher numbers were thrown in the mix too.  Recorded whilst pregnant with Elijah, the album did not chart anywhere despite being badly promoted.

Above: Cher can't say no to a fag.
The title track ranks as one of the best songs she ever recorded, but the rest of the material opts for quaint and theatrical pleasures over the plaintive rawness here. The way she hollers "yeah, OH YEAH" is positively heroic. That it's an anomaly here is is not to say that it's a poor album (it's still a very good one), just that it's following the very best thing Cher has ever produced. 

The album's sole single Long Distance Love Affair is a solid opener, re-activating the singer's gritty signature grimacing lyrics, presumably attempting to re-establish her star image. The Rn'B fling I Know (You Don't Love Me) is a fun stumbling, jazzy affair also built on a solid electronic folk foundation. Cher yo-yo's between octaves on the tender Silver Wings & Golden Rings, a MOR middle of the week tale of meeting lonely companions at the bar. It's a sing-along ballad more familiar to her audience. 

The languid Flash Back is a slow-burning Dark Lady-esque dramatic tale, and would have been a great choice for single number 3 from that album, where the passion burns like a cigarette. Dodging disco is a poor precaution to take when covering Knock On Wood, but does boast a standard pop appeal, rather like her version of Rescue Me from 1974's Dark Lady. It's certainly not lighting any fuse towards the disco direction of Take Me Home, but it does illustrate Cher's knack for capturing whatever sound is happening without losing the natural essence of Cher. The guitar grind isn't dislikable, and the confrontational tug-and-pull energy of the sensual verses, grit of the bridges and angst-filled chorus sits well with her. 

An ambush of TV-Cher sensations, the rhythmic and alert show-tune It's A Crying Shame is a sheer joy, with a lot of poof and sparkle to cushion the album in fine form. The alluring Early Morning Strangers makes something meaningful out of meaningless relationships. She soars on the country-kissed Spring, another 3rd person narrative - the lyrics are beautiful and baffling in equal measure. Borrowed Time is slightly apt given the nature of the LP, but is a radiant gem unleashed right at the end.

A radiant mixture of vibrant uptempo numbers, a gorgeous title track, and flashes of her theatrical flair ensure that I'd Rather Believe In You is a very solid album, but the only issue is that it's following up the best album of her career. Cher doesn't put a foot wrong, and there is no filler. Not to be overlooked.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cher - Stars (1975)

Life after love

US #153

Stars is Cher's blazing masterpiece, a soaring artistic triumph of the kind of beauty no scalpel could touch. Cher inhabits these songs as if it was a life-long craving. She puts on a gripping journey, displaying a poignant maturity and inspires a vivid fascination she is rarely given credit for. This album is her real autograph. Shacking up with red-blooded hetro David Geffen for a bit, newly-divorced 29 year old Cher was legally free from Sonny's shady legal wrangles and now had her own highly-rated TV show and brand new record deal with more money thrown at her than the fake notes she showered fans with during the Farewell tour back in '04. Recorded during a tumultuous time in her life, the dedication of the performance failed to win over music critics who really seemed to go for her. A divorced woman who wasn't shy about being glamorous, a half-naked Half-Breed, dating new men and who was plastered on any woman's magazine going with headlines almost as risque as her outfits made her an easy target - an album full of sincerity probably clashed with her celebrity transgressions. The album flopped, and the only hits were the ones she took from the press:

She had no one but herself to blame for the emptiness of her new album ... maybe it's even time to send Sonny an apology. It doesn't look like she is ever going to top "I Got You Babe".
- the L.A Times

Well, if Sonny & Cher couldn't even 'top' that song, with their 7 albums (their last had been released less than two years ago), then boo hoo. There was no pleasing some critics. The inability to accept Stars truly baffles me. It's the album she had been building towards throughout her career, and for once the covers were truly crafted around her and she had been involved in the project in a much more hands on manner than ever before. The terms on which she was judged above speak for themselves - Cher had got too big for her boots, boldly declaring herself an independent artist was over-stepping a boundary. Perhaps if it had been suggested the singer apologize to Snuff Garrett, the thinly-veiled bias could have at least had an argument that stood up to scrutiny since Sunny hadn't gave Cher a hit himself in over 8 years. Cher's 70s career had owed much more to the ornate narrative stuff from Suff. Stars will remain the singer's most underrated work that didn't involve anesthetic.

There is an air of melancholy that flows through the majority of this album. The songs wash over you gently with their lush tide of swirling pop fantasia. Soft-rock ballad Love Enough is tinged with aching country guitars and a soulful vocal that is both understated and expressive. The plaintive voice begins to well up before croaking alarmingly right at the very end, and if that doesn't put a smile on your face nothing will. Swooning. She devours Bell Bottom Blues with an affliction that's too wounded to simply sound loud or aggressive for the sake of it. Again, the final shrieking bark isn't affected or a knowing quirk, simply it is Cher's instrument being stretched to an emotional limit. Whereas the common accusation is that on her 80s anthems she would sing loudly as if creating humongous emotions that are too ridiculous to make any sense (for those not intoxicated by the cult of her persona), her devotion to the lyrics compel her in a deranged manner that's believable and more vulnerable than before. I guess that's the advantage not having your songs written by that dowdy dyke Diane Warren.

First single chosen, These Days was recently used in the final season of Brothers & Sisters (although it was not Cher's version). Cher's gloomy syrup melts right into the soft stirring of the lush string-laden musicality.
For those familiar with It's A Man's World, this one bears a slight resemblance to the brooding and reflective struggle of album track Angel's Running, but has a far more contemplative and less-resolved approach, with soft and fragile final urging: "please don't confront me with my failures, I've not forgotten them" sounds like a difficult evening of soul-searching is ahead of her with the help of her best friends called Gin and Lime. With its slightly scathing lyrics, the funky and taunting Dr Soul is almost an interval to the 'bell-bottom' gazing. Cher gets down and groovy, with her thick gravy-voice spurting over it all in a delightfully messy and bitter fashion in places. If I ever I have heard a lip-licking performance from Cher this would come high on the list. The one original cut is one helluva tour-de-force. Just This One Time is my favourite Cher vocal of all time. Drenched in gospel, the splashes of searing heartache are soul-wrenching stuff. The scorching falsetto is exquisite, and the emotion overflows like a bath-tub. When it goes off it's a real cork-popping moment of vocal extravagance. This one is done with real zeal. Firing from all cylinders, the song goes off like fireworks, but the control is wonderful. 

Above: performing Just This One Time on The Cher Show, with lots of hair-fixing and an exceptional F6 falsetto boldly going where no Cher song had gone before (3:43 onwards). 

As blue as an imprisoned Native American can be, Cher hits her stride (and a soaring, gospel-soaked jackpot) on Geronimo's Cadillac. She most definitely had her blue suede shoes on for this one. The song is a smoother glide than Walking In Memphis (although much less polished), but for me it hits the same spot with a similar state of grace(land).  A more eloquent 'touch down' on some of the themes stomped on by Half-Breed. The bluesy subtly of the lyrics (the piano alone pours emotion like a tap) genuinely ache, benefited from an amazing pack of backing singers, state her case by addressing in turn "Sargent, Sargent", "Warden, Warden", "Govenor, Govenor", and then "People, People." She delivers every lyric masterfully, the tension, surrender, aching and stoic protest inform every facet: "listen to me" she hypnotically requests, much like the casual "won't you look down over me?" from Walking In Memphis (where the difference in vocals make it sound as if Cher's been down with the whole sex change malarkey a lot longer than we think). The song almost gains too much speed, but more like this, please Cher! Listen to me.

Above: Cher with her fag in the studio (although I somehow doubt David Geffen gave her 10 a day)

Another groove potion, Rock N' Roll Dr is a stronger dosage than the sneer of Mr Soul's furtive funk foreplay. Basking in ska, the Caribbean heat of The Harder They Fall has a rock edge and contains more than a few lyrical gems that always amuse me, either through actual wit or simply because of the way Cher sings them. There's no denying, she really throws herself into this one, but never overcooks it. First loves are always special, and Love Hurts, with its caressing and meditative execution, is infinitely superior to the version she recorded for 1991's album of the same name. Her voice sounds like a warm fog of emotions coming in and out of focus. I said fog not fog-horn. The sensual sigh where she sings "honey" is luxuriously sublime. The strings that float away as the song's fade-out finale are dazzling.  The soft sparkle of Stars is the glistening piano ballad closer. It doesn't linger as strongly as Love Hurst and should have been track 9 as far as I'm concerned.

The array of gems Stars links together is like a separate universe in contrast to the rest of her back catalogue except for It's A Man's World, which returned her to a similar greatness. What often impresses me the most about Stars is that it avoids all the 80s belting and yet it's the most quintessentially Cher: perhaps because it is the album we all knew she was capable of. Most of the songs possess a remarkably coherent pathos, but each contain their own vastness, and she even gets to rock out on two of them.  An album of covers (with the exception of the gospel agony of Just This One Time), Cher is an architect of the material in so far as her interpretations are mesmerizing and the songs are built completely around her. She's taking more care with her vocal control, and only on It's A Man's World, which would come some 20 years later, has the singer truly pushed herself to make a timeless landmark of an album worthy of her talents. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Cher - Dark Lady (1974)

He hit the gass

US #69, CAN #20

The last of Cher's three solo albums that housed her 70s US #1s, and the least successful. Finally divorcing Sonny, and going public after two years of separation, this would be the start of Cher's constant press about ill-advised lovers, mysterious illnesses, divorce and custody battles. Cher remained a top draw, winning a Golden Globe that year for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (which would now finish). Another mixture of theatrical pop and standards, the execution is certainly slicker than ever. If the formula is predictable, Cher herself explained:

I could do a whole album with Snuffy [Garrett] in three days. I'd sing each song through two or three times and, if you got it, it was on to the next one ... We were on the road, I was recording, and we were doing the Sonny &; Cher Show, all at the same time! I was fried! I did the best that I could [fitting] each obligation into what little time was allotted.

With a voice that hits you like one, gutsy opener Train of Thought is the singer at full pelt. It's almost a straight-forward rocker, but as ever comes off its hinges somewhat as another deranged theatrical joyride. Perhaps the raspy aggression lacked the 'gypsy fatale' slant and threw too much caution to the wind for record buyers, but many Cher fans consider this a 'first class ticket' and one of her most underrated singles. The more languid I Saw A Man And He Danced With His Wife isn't quite so in your face, and was a moderate domestic hit. It will draw you in, but doesn't draw too much attention to itself, much like the jealousy of watching from the sidelines with the deflation of defeat. Make The Man Love Me is standard fare for Cher in this decade, but does the job very well. The longing Cher conveys is slightly tempestuous compared to the soul-grit of Dusty Springfield's version (recorded for a shelved 1972 album). Yet another pop love ballad Just What I've Been Looking For is certainly no grand prize, but sits well as a slightly country-tinged album track. Dixie Girl has a lush acoustic setting, the narrative is a table-waiting woman "passing herself around", but (much like 99% of her fan-base) it's far too passive for its own good.

Despite the set-up of Gypsies (1971), Half-Breed (1973) and Dark Lady being similar, the latter refined the penchant for crass dramatic flourishes on the lead single. It's lurid tale builds to a gory climax that serves as a role-reversal of sorts, where Cher herself becomes the dark lady in question after shooting the fortune teller warning and scorning her to leave town. Cher herself was embarrassed by this song, possibly because it sounded nothing like the singer-songwriter rock music she longed to sing, and perhaps because she was now keen to shed an old image tied to her connection with what's his face. It would be nearly 25 years before Cher would perform her vintage solo number ones again on tour.

The scene of a dark and morbid environment lit by candles and inhabited by women driven insane by lust and revenge is high class trash personified. The stabbing orchestra simulates the overwhelming urges of Cher's sordid tale, as if it were mere ritual, and the wanton abandon of her graphic, sharp, shuddering and bullet-proof vocal is almost too Cher to function. The image of a pair of legs wrapped in fish-nets emerging from a limousine in this ostentatious place she identifies as New Orleans always excited me as a young boy - I think it was my own version of Dolly Parton's story about admiring the glamour of her local town's prostitute as a young girl. Cher's cackling recital sounds like she's frothing at the mouth. The fade out increases the sense of doom with an open-ended finale even after the punchline. Cher has said the song is "ridiculous" and yes, yes it is!

Rescue Me. Yes, that one. Sounding like she recorded it in 15 minutes maximum, the styling has all the trappings of what you'd expect Cher to open her and Sonny's television show with, and drag queens could pick a worse song to practice their imitations with. Released as a promotional single only. Of all Cher's less than original songs chosen to cover, there is something rather special about What'll I Do. For one, the production brings into focus the same elements arranged so wonderfully on her hit The Way of Love. The voice is soft and sounds absolutely miserable. I unashamedly love this.

Bitchy tribute to Bette Midler, Miss Subway of 1952 is the most affected Cher has ever been on record, sounding like an extension of her own infamous Laverne persona. "To my idol, the Divine, let's hope it never happens to us" sounds sincere enough, but with the way their relations have plaid out over the years I'm rather fond of assuming the passive-aggression is all aimed at the Hocus Pocus star even if it clearly wasn't. The story between Cher and Bette is an interesting one. Very much peers, they were friends of sorts and Midler appeared on Cher's solo TV show to boot. 

Sticking the actual boot in, at a 1998 American awards show whilst Believe was taking its time to properly take off in America, Bette took to the stage and remarked that at least she wasn't someone who used to be be famous trying to be famous again. Cher's 1980 Take Me Home tour even featured drag queens impersonating both Bette and Diana Ross. Nevertheless, on this song Cher's voice plays to the era it pursues, and also playfully subtly mimics Midler. "She's gotten just a little saggy and her skin's a trifle baggy" is the kind of dialogue exchanged between female Hollywood rivals I love (and why Death Becomes Her is one of my top 5 films).

Bob Stone (Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves) wrote the crisp closer Apples Don't Fall Far From The Tree, and it shows. I'd have threw it off as a single. This is no sequel to the song he is known for, but the chorus is one of those blue-sky pop moments. If it's too straight-laced for some, there is the husky "hey-honey" refrain and an opening line about Cher learning to paint her face from her mother, which takes on a new resonance after the Burlesque scene Cher wrote herself that she based on her real-life mother showing her the basics in slap (with Christina Aguilera of all people playing the student).

Despite the slight disappointment of Dark Lady's eventual sales, Cher was a free woman and her next musical endeavors are arguably the finest of her entire career.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Cher - Half-Breed (1973)

'nuff said

US #28, CAN #21, NOR #18

After emasculating him for years (by letting him be seen in daylight *plays audience laughter* etc), Cher abandoned Sonny in the first area of her life, that we know of. Her solo career. She just outgrew him (*plays audience laughter* etc). This project reunited her with Snuff Garett after a whopping one album without him after the guy refused to work with her 'worser' half. With an album called Half-Breed, it's not that surprising that the reviews were mixed too. Be that as it may, she got her second solo US #1 out of it, and the album was fairly successful (selling well over 500,000 copies in 1974 alone).

Stomping hollerback anthem Half-Breed pours scorn on American racists as if they were her own husband. Nobody deserves that.  Cher's performance of her mega hit on her and Sonny's TV show all the while half-naked and on a horse remains one of her most iconic images of all time. Obviously having only been with Sonny, she'd never been with a stallion at that point before (*plays audience laughter* etc). That Carousel Man did not become a hit single is deceptive, for it was a sizeable radio hit (peaking at #11 on the airplay charts). It's one of Cher's very finest moments. The dramatic swirl of the strings, the clattering punctuation, the momentum of the fanciful narrative itself (there's been a murder, of course) and the barmy chorus are such a hoot. Cher and her label chose 3 recent US #1s to cover - Paul and Linda McCartney's My Love, the Bee-Gee's How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and The Beatles's The Long and Winding Road. All are pretty standard. Cher won't change your opinion of the songs, but for me she does make them tolerable at the very least (since I'd never go near them otherwise). 

A song by Seals and Crofts (who can forget THOSE rogues?) called Ruby Jean & Billy Lee is re-written by Cher herself and re-named Chastity Sun, and it would seem Chastity had been involved in gender-switching operation a lot earlier than most people realize. Like Chaz himself, there's not really any throbbing arousal, but one can't help but check it out just to see what on earth is going on. I've got to say though, it's gorgeous. With a song so personal, it's quite a unique composition for her.  

Doubling the amount of people actually reading this thread, Two People Clinging To A Thread is not actually the theme tune of Diva Incarnate. Revving up interest in a blog these days (the format is dead let's face it) is more of a stretch than her actual face (allegedly). Melodramatic and lavish, I'm punching the sofa just thinking about it.  One of my all-time favourite Cher songs after it turned up on one of her budget compilations that I bought, The Greatest Song I Ever Heard is tender and framed by a beautifully lilting arrangement. Because I think the song is so, well, great, I can totally forgive her for getting just a bit too carried away with all her mannerisms.

Even beard's have feelings, David's Song was written especially for her, but probably isn't about David Geffen despite singing about a connection to a would-be lover through making music. "Won't you come and boogie woogie with meh babeh" is worthy of Mel B on a 70s themed hen night coming on to the topless waiter handing out shots. Easy-listening fare of Melody moderately lives up to its name.  Cher's This God-Forsaken Day sounds a bit like Dusty's Nothing Has Been Proved in its verses, and both are rainy documents of a list of events or stages unfolding. Cher's day involved "baking a tray of muffins" and washing dishes, but with a voice so masculine I doubt feminism was even a concern.

Mostly MOR, there are enough slick-pop highlights, and it's an essential document of music recorded from one of her most popular periods. 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Cher - Bittersweet White Light (1973)

Kill the lights
 US #140

Cher's torch ballads were to the 70s what AIDS was to the 80s: absolutely everywhere, but not what anyone wanted besides a few mentally unstable gays. Even when flopping, if Cher had been any more 'active' she'd have had a gaydar profile looking for 'no strings attached fun with a man OVER 5'5" but UNDER 55 please'. However, Bittersweet White Light is all about the strings AND the oldies, with its lush setting of re-visiting and re-vamping the 20s, 30s and 40s, and the man behind it is very much under 5'5 if not quite 55. Between 1971-1979, Cher released no more than 16 albums (11 of which were solo, 5 with Sonny and 1 with some druggie she shacked up with for a bit who looked like a stoned viking). This is the last solo album produced by Sonny, and seemingly the last straw as her next album would more or less symbolically sever ties with the possessive 'little man', before swiftly coming back strong with Half Breed. 

On the concept kick, and recorded the week before Christmas in 1972 no less, gays may be shocked to find out the Christina Aguilera didn't invent the 1920,s 1930s or even the 1940s after all as Cher once again is doing it first. Giving classic songs then-contemporary arrangements was the idea, but it does sound like an extravagant souvenir of her solo spots highlights on the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (which was the inspiration for the project). Some fans argue the album contains her best ever vocals, but this really isn't the case. Instead, Cher injects nearly every little nuance her voice is capable of into songs that at first glance would seem out of reach for her. Rather than growl over the cracks, Cher fully sings around and through them in spellbinding fashion. The effect is in turns impressive, furious and sentimental, and just as on her more familiar 70s hits, she often sounds like she's singing with her mouth full of something that's burning the roof of her mouth.

Singing loudly, but as if using only one half of her mouth, By Myself is a rousing purge of jaunty instrumentation that's airy, clean and cinematic. One of my favourite overall executions on the album. Softly fusing piano with electronic synths, Cher's restraint on I Got It Bad & That Ain't Good has a yawning elegance. Expect a key change, etc. I adore her croaking finale, and the groaning that must have been sounds not even heard by Sonny. Am I Blue? is broody and seethes with a sensual lust that flickers between a smoldering persuasion and being simply deranged. Her voice cackles like a hot swamp: certainly an acquired taste at times, it's committed theatrical numbers like this that push this polarizing status to the limit. "Am I gay? Oh-oh, was I gay until today?" couldn't have been a bigger leap for homosexuals than an actual homosexual leaping off a bridge. Delightful as it may be, it was the wrong, wrong, wrong choice as a single. Psychedelic Dr Who-esque intro aside, How Long Has This Been Going On? could make you ask the same question if you're not partial to this kind of thing. Personally, I think the backing track sounds like something French duo Air would have been chuffed with.

Atmospheric and basking in serene splashes of piano and other rippling sounds, The Man I Love showcases Cher's charismatic drawl that ploughs through each word and uproots either their meaning or pronunciation simply to fit her own inimitable style. Getting through songs almost as fast as she went through lovers, Jolson Medley (a drowsy Sonny Boy, the charging chorus-line kicks of her squawk-fest My Mammy and slipping into something more flamboyant still with Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody) probably illustrates the time constraints of the recording. Good luck understanding a word she's singing on The Man That Got Away. Just know that it's one of the most overblown Cher performances of all time, thus rendering it essential. Her scolding delivery sounds like she's gargling hot tar. Her fine interpretive talents are inflamed to the max, sounds drunk AND pissed. Why Was I Born is one for her teenage gay fans of all ages throughout the decades. The swanky jazz thrills of More Than You Know is a clear highlight, and would have been my choice as a single here. Ornate, elaborate and yet somehow throwaway, Cher's fine and jolly enunciation fills the lyrics like wine glasses. Playful and memorable without being too mannered.

A bizarre commercial miss-step, but an essential artistic stepping stone in the overall Cher experience. A vivid expression of a singer wanting to expand her physical and emotional range. An album that possibly tries AND tires itself if not its listeners to stand in absolute contrast to all Cher expectations - there are still plenty excessively-Cher moments, gaudy-Cher moments and even glimpses of rock-Cher moments. There is no denying that as the successful TV stint showed at the time, Cher has always appealed to a far-ranging audience, but on this bold project the aim to translate the popularity of 'solo torch spots' failed to hit the mark with record buyers.

Cher - Foxy Lady (1972)

First published on Diva Incarnate in 2011.
Foxy Lady was a stressed-filled album during its recording, and was a relative flop. Its draw relies on Cher's hollaback-girl voice in its supreme 70s vintage peak: it's single Living reflecting the singer's own personal life, and an underrated minor hit song Don't Hide Your Love.

Sign of the times (at least in Cher's own dwellings), Living In A House Divided became the album's only US hit single, albeit a minor one at #22. It Might As Well Stay Monday is a rainy ballad and Cher's masculine verses find a stubborn melancholy to excell within. Clearly on a torch song bender, Song For You is one of the better examples. Down, Down, Down gets more pop with some jaunty piano steps, but the bulk of the ballads such as Don't Try To Close A Rose and The First Time are basically filler. Let Me Down Easy is better. The folk-sounding sing-a-long If I Knew Then has been a regular highlight of many a budget Cher compilation, and she can certainly express rueful self-awareness in her sleep. Best of the bunch, Don't Hide Your Love evokes the wide-eyed pop melodies she specialised in during the 60s. Perhaps for this reason it failed to ignite the charts in a similar manner. I have always been surprised that it was never remixed to accompany her dance duties in the late 70s and late 90s - it's crying out for such tarty thrills to re-introduce itself. Never Been To Spain certainly stretches her androgynous characterizations, but is nothing exceptional.