Friday, 1 February 2013

Cher - I Paralyze (1982)

Back when it was her chart positions that were paralyzed and not her face, Cher's start to the 1980s was a period of musical uncertainty. She was still keeping Chastity and Elijah locked up in her Vegas dressing room, but as a chart force it seemed as if the only way to get a hit was to grit her teeth and compromise. After pouring her soul into the Stars album and arguably letting her paranoia about musical credibility get the better of her on the largely forgotten Black Rose project, it must have felt as if other people had been dictating to the singer exactly who she should be. However, there was hope - recording a kinetic rock duet called Dead Ringer For Love with Meatloaf turned out to be a top 5 UK hit that endures to this day (it was a furious performance from both of them, and Cher introduces the rough-minded tart with a heart persona in the fantastic music video). Released the following year on her 1 album tenure with Columbia, I Paralyze bizarrely overlooked the opportunity to include her recent hit single (however, it is worth noting that the song never took off in the States), but the sound of the LP is one of renewed confidence, style and sophistication with a contemporary pop sheen lacking in her previous rock project. It is hard to speculate on whether the album was a flop or simply a missed opportunity: on the one hand, it was promoted on television (Cher could still command a lot of attention on this medium); and on the other hand, such publicity duties were cut short when her acting career was truly taking off with a stint on Broadway, which understandably took higher priority as finally the critics were cutting her some slack. Be that as it may, the album is by far the strongest of her 4 albums released in the 80s (compared to her 11 studio sets from the 70s). Straddling the line between her glamorous 60s and 70s past and the biker chick rock-pop that would consume her next three albums, the the album is a decisive return to form, and a benchmark for which her subsequent Geffen blockbusters would fail to match. Tom Kelly of Cyndi Lauper's True Colours and Madonna's Like A Virgin fame is on backing vocals.

The 3 strikes & you're out rule clearly hasn't applied to Cher's career.
Spangly 60s girl-group pastiche Rudy is both nostalgic and glorious, decorated with rousing guitars and splashings of piano that propel the huge chorus to sparkling effect. Turning the tempo down a notch, Games is a broody Pointer Sisters style ballad (think Slowhand meets Fire) with its sensual angst and melodic stencil. Earning her female Elvis tag, I Paralyze boasts her trademark buoyant charisma that makes lines such as "you're as real as a dollar bill" such a hoot. Produced by John Farrar and co-written by himself and Steve Kipner (Olvia Newton-John's Physical), "leave the modesty to someone else" is all Cher, and sung with a sort of soothing sleaze. She stated on her VH1's Behind The Music that the song remains a favourite of hers: "I loved it then, and I still love it now, and I want to re-record it". We're still waiting, Cher. 

Her token torch ballad When The Love Is Gone truly shines, and deserves recognition. It's a very fine power-ballad indeed, but is relatively restrained compared to the dime-a-dozen choruses she would be churning out by the end of the decade. Ironically, it was written by Desmond Child, which makes it all the more galling that he never gave her anything quite like this ever again. Her carefully modulated candor of troubled innocence facing up to life's wounds is full of plaintive pleasure.

Seething street-walking anthem Back On The Street Again is a pavement-pounding power-rock life anthem. Turning tricks with a tinge of ABBA's Gimme Gimme Gimme disco muscle to its chugging bass-synth foundation that absorbs the melodic thunderousness of it all. The galloping chorus is one of her very biggest. Her tremorring terror as she squawks about being "down for the count" release all the highly charged adrenaline and nervous excitement one could ask for as she devours the lyrics with all the resistance of a food blender.  

The swooning gospel-tinged Walk With Me is a wistful gem that was b-side to the title track. Delivered in a soulful croak, the chorus's rueful whimsy surfs the album's strongest pop wave  It positively glides with a disarming generosity: "take my hand and walk with me" could only be more touching if it were a gay pride march anthem. Moving up a gear, The Book of Love and Say What's On Your Mind are there to be enjoyed with Cher delivering some fantastic quips, such as the goofy heckle of "ahh stupid cupid!", but are not the best on offer. Then again, she's hardly a stranger to filler, but only narrowly avoids injecting her album with them here. With its tender country blues, Do I Ever Cross Your Mind is an atypically soft and lovely closer, and has a near stream-of-conscious quality. The ruefully blissed out dreamscape came as a huge surprise the first time I heard it.

Living proof that you cannot write off any period of her career: the glossy textures of I Paralyze have a more emphatic pop dimension than all her other 80s albums, where the songs are tailored with electronic extensions and a faintly retro-obsessed orchestration, with almost every song being a grand prize. Crippling all expectations, I Paralyze proves her critics don't have a leg to stand on.