Monday, 4 November 2013
Is the music no good without vocoder? Can Cher turn back time - to 2001? Flamboyant gentlemen, your album of the decade has arrived.
You're lies, they cut me
And now your words don't mean a thing
I don't give a damn if you ever love me
Blasting the title lyric like the editor of Woman’s Own magazine undergoing a nervous breakdown after taking a dodgy batch of ecstasy tablets supplied by Denise Welch at a Loose Women Christmas wrap party might not be the most accessible way of reminding the gays that you invented them, but the thumping tuneless havoc proves once again that Cher isn't scared of being not.com.mercial, and in fact has had flops way before Beyoncé and Madge got in on it. For all the huffing and puffing, it might not blow the house down for everyone, and she certainly should have been singing "have a truth" for starters, but as personal favours to Hilary Clinton go, this is right up there with getting personal favours stains out of little black dresses, and I for one have been blowing my load to this for the best part of a year. On a sad note, Chaz probably now feels more alienated from his mother than ever. Talk about Cher having a habit of slapping people in the face. Apart from the newspaper wig, the video was a bigger disaster than Chastity (the film).
But we rise again to face the truth
TAKE IT LIKE A MAN
Taking advantage of her butch vocal presence, this is a more memorable lyric and bigger deal in terms of overall package, and ought to have been lined up as the first single to flaunt the considerable allure of the strident exuberance here. The deluxe extravagance is so extreme that when it briefly pauses for breath (or wig adjustment) on its lustrous middle-8, it pretty much swallows itself whole and spits itself back out again with Cher going even harder on the closing choruses. The contagiously deranged “we do it better” assertions are torrential. Not only does she require you to “take it” but when she yells “how does it feel?” it’s the confirmation that we’re all basically her bitches. A dazzling mixture of vintage glitzy italo-disco motifs and early 2000s Ibiza trance (rewind back to the luxuriously intoxicating middle-8 again), her vocal ferocity exposes the less daring attempts of the genre such as Kylie’s pedestrian tinkles on the shrill Get Out of My Way. Her wayward vocal shenanigans (she is grappling almost from start to finish) are the centre of attention, the eye of the storm, but everything about this track is like being drenched in poppers and various other fluids you're much too high to focus on. The vocoder is a tad unnecessary during the verses (especially since lines such as "I went from A to Z, blew off reality" blow the dust off the usual clichés one might expect from an empowering diva anthem), but the mutilation going on with her voice during the gravelly-textured middle-8 is superb (the dizzying rhythms accompanying the line “on and on, on and one we’re going” make me briefly flash back to Mr President and Jam & Spoon, and are pure indulgence for a 90s dance junkie like myself). A full-pelt and full-throttle stampede of piano keys, glowing italo-disco flourishes, adamant lyrics that don’t make much sense and don’t need to as there’s no time to think about anything beyond staying alive for the 3 minute duration solely to 'take it' all in, and Cher’s sturdy timbre being stretched to the very limit of its 67 year old range, all combine for an unrelenting and unexplainable sensory disturbance. Sounding like having a stroke inside a club playing Madonna’s Confessions and Kylie’s Aphrodite both at the same, backwards, this is legs to the ceiling amazing. For raving homosexuals, in more ways than one
I'm dazzled by the beauty in front of me
The shimmering Metro radiance of My Love is a plaintive number, favouring a poised vocal assault that is as free as the love she had on 1995’s bluesy romance elixir One By One and makes use of her tender falsetto to elevate this performance as one of her finest. With a mist of euphoric dance vapours, producer Taylor pours more than enough inventive inflections into what could have been a by-numbers re-tread of their earlier work together (Believe, All Or Nothing, Love Is A Lonely Place Without You), and Tina Cousins will be crying herself to sleep when she hears this. The undulating embellishments that kick in just before the chorus gets into gear set me off every time. Her notably lower register on the furlong and robust chorus, where she is staunchly defending her feeble object of affection, makes me think Alice Deejay on steroids meets Tina Cousins on cloud 9, and right on cue we have a rave flare up that is very much a celebration of life with just a hint of mourning. Her transgender-treacle (or vocals as you might want to call them if you're traditional that way) commits to a lustrous aura that gels beautifully with the thumping yet spacious, agile and ambient soundscape being inhabited here (her exotic allure really shines on this one). The echo-before-the-vocal effect is magical, and one of the many subtleties that have me tingling with awe at this 15 year old formula feeling fresher than even Cher does when coming to on an operating table, and if it had any more glimmering twinkles it would be a Nicola Roberts middle-8 (for those not in the know, check out Call The Shots by Girls Aloud for evidence). The pure, bell-like sounds of the piano key chimes capture the intimacy beautifully.
I’m on the loose – you’re in my sight
DRESSED TO KILL
Making a 'change' from going for just the usual mutton, this is one big frolicking hot mess from start to finish. With its choppy, synth-riddled sense of calamity, Cher’s one size fits all vocal attack is fully immersed in the tacky thrills on offer. With each stabbing “to kill, to kill, to kill, to kill, to kill” she’s sentenced to life as a gay icon (this being her 3rd dance album, we already know she’s a repeat offender). Bursting at the seams with tough-edged power pop steel, you’re getting exactly the ride you paid for or illegally downloaded. Although we all know the definitive verdict will come from Chantelle in her OK! Magazine column anyway (for non UK residents, D2K was originally performed by a small-time indie pop star by the name of Preston, and the Chantelle reference might go over your head I'm very sorry to say).
Floating lost at sea with sharks around our bed
Quite simply, Red is Cher's best shade since "WTF is MDNA?" This song has truly brought my life to a stand-still, at least for the 25-30 minutes a day I spend listening to it anyway, and the colour has yet to fade. The most sure-fire number from the get-go, I'd have chosen either this or TILAM as the album's lead. Think ‘Evacuate the Dancefloor Playing Aqua's Live Fast Die Young (RedOne Remix)’. Cher's pugnacious agitation on the rattled and raspy verses is more than excellent, the growled and howled chorus is exceedingly eager and preposterous (“red from my lips when you told me you were done”), and each successive hook propels you onto the next without any hesitation. Gigantic bass-lines, gigantic Cher and gigantic whiplashing beats – 2003 is back! The trance that blasts out with no vocals is yet another example of her producers pulling the right tricks at the right time, and of how these tracks sound far more meticulous than they will probably ever be given credit for.
Such a triffle sacrifice
Cher’s love song for a vampire was originally a much slower ballad intended for the Interview With A Vampire soundtrack, but 20 years later emerges with much more vitality than before, and is quite the disco massacre (imagine Sinitta pulling out a rifle at G-A-Y and you’re still not even close). The demented intensity and uncompromising Hi-RG present a highly rewarding blitz of 80s thuds, chugging bass, thrusting momentum and a particularly euphoric segment of ripples at a particular moment where the track really could go on forever when it seems there isn’t a dance song not available to suck the energy from. As she bellows “surrender to me noooooooooooow” for one last oxygen-depriving-and-defying time, she holds on to the note for longer than most of her relationships. If you should faint or crash your car at this point then at least you will go down in flames AS a gigantic flamer. The song’s fatalistic tint is conveyed through not only the dizzying impact of the production, but the many ridiculous lyrics. I am particularly partial to the way she sings “many mortals who have drained their souls for less” but take your pick. The dynamic synergy of berserk euro-dance would make an earthquake during Melodifestevalen sound like Dido Unplugged, and there’s even a brief burst of heavy metal gusto that I at first mistakenly assumed was the remains of the original version. Nope, Cher’s invention knows no bounds, no taste barrier and the unexpected sonic surprises are as drastic as each of her other kind of face-lifts.
There’s an anger as I get closer to the truth
I WALK ALONE
Capturing the theatrical spirit of some of her 70s hits about women with a past, Cher has rage and fear, howling at the moon, and a banjo that suggests “WTF is MDNA?” was answered after all. Her biggest dosage of rock on the album is a stomping strut, and was co-written by Pink of all people (beer-slugging, pool-playing lesbians will love this). The swift and rowdy chorus laughs and dances, and is both crammed-full and outstanding. The funky thusa of the "there will be no fade out" climax is also wonderful. "I hear the thunder, but I won't back down" even gets a little groovey as she stumbles into the wrong side of town in a way only dark ladies of a certain age do (ie clearly on purpose, having told their black-limousine driver exactly where to head). Her invigorating knack for phrasing is as sharp, domineering and furious as ever. This would have been one of my choices to be a single had they not botched it up with the first 2 (edit - this review was written some time ago and I Hope You Find It has been a huge and lovely surprise in giving this album legs thus far).
But there's a time to dance, time to laugh, time to cry, time to go, time to grieve, time to cope
Well I've still got time to fold, time to hold, time to play, time to grow but for now I gotta walk alone
The lost avenues
Quite simply, the passionate and solemn grace of Sirens is one of the greatest things she has ever done. Her husky timbre laments gently with a ghostly, significant air that recalls her sombre masterstroke It’s A Man’s World. When she soars for two magnificent wordless outpours, it’s an outer body experience. This is the song I have been waiting 18 years to hear from her. Those humongous ad libs at the end carrying the song on home create a rousing rock performance that has for too long eluded her. So much so that the tiresome accusations of her undifferentiated emotions when she sings/hollers/barks (whatever you want to call the unique noise that she and only she, the female Elvis, can make) can end right now. Her smouldering presence on any song is unmistakable, but here her raw sincerity, vulnerability and self-possession are more potent than ever here. This is a deep, spiritual, slow-burning, weeper of a ballad. Her torch-song bender blues activate emotions that haven’t even been invented yet. What gives it so much emotional oomph is that she reins it in, which emphasizes her sublime phrasing, her every sigh (those “oh oh” vocals are majestic), and the softness of the lyrics brings out in her voice both the epic and her humility. The airy surfaces, elegiac guitar solo and her husky perfume all create an intensity that makes the performance one of pure soul. In fact, this is not just a performance, it is felt. Her rich and lush tones inhabit the song with a contemplative calm that gradually builds into something huge beyond what I can put into words. The way she sings the closing lyrics – I have never heard her sound like that. This is truly a bookmark of her entire career.
Take your heart back off the shelf
Cher's taut celebrity skin will no doubt have taken a few bruises and then some over the years, but FS is more about being life's doormat, a 67 year old mattress, and having both the balls and Believe royalties to live through it and still be more or less in 1 piece. Her chops are well equipped to agonize over oversized emotions and the pressure we put on ourselves trynna hand-glide with no defence, etc, all the while weeping with soothing enthusiasm for it all as if she wouldn't have it any other way. The gliding finale is just the smooth landing she's seemingly after. With its gorgeous hooks more angular than her Cherokee cheekbones, the arty melodicism has a funky new-wave momentum that is a refreshing setting for Cher. Far from wounded, she studies her emotional baggage and wears it on her sleeve. It marks (pun intended) an unforgettable deviation from the voltage of her dance-pop that works its way into your soul more subtly than vocodered quips about being "you are what you are" however snappy and cheery they may be. It's fairly obvious she is revelling in this song, which is a brave title given her cosmetic addiction if nothing else. A major prize among a whole host of them.
Oh-oh, I never felt nothing better
I DON'T NEED TO SLEEP TO DREAM
I can hardly belie-eee-eeeve that such a gliding, giddy stream of Euro-pop embellishments would ever have come from Timbaland ('shock value' indeed), although it’s not too far off the Katy Perry song he did. The jittery intro reminds me of the house music propulsion of Dannii’s Jump To The Beat, with beats as camera flashes, before it settles into a mid-tempo groove that ATC would be proud of and gains most heat from the soaring chorus, which scoops you up like ice-cream. This collaboration had been rumoured for years, which could mean it was actually recorded quite some time ago. More than a bonus track, it’s absolutely essential.
We can still believe
The most classic splurge of Disco-Cher for me is the wailing fantasia of Pride. Moving into unclassifiable campery in much the same way of When They Money’s Gone was so to the point of no return. However, this is closer to Song For The Lonely, and “we can still believe” even recalls yet another cultural moment for her. The grinding, glossy finale is every bit as Cher-quenching one could hope for (and so much more, etc). Not many ageing female pop stars are willing to take such a risk by singing dance music aimed at the gays, but the clichéd sentiments are so gutsy and infectious that if this doesn’t put a lump in your throat, then nothing will. “If it was our last time to shine” particularly stands out on a record that not only reaches the summit of what any dance-pop record has ever achieved, but could realistically be her final pop album.
I hate that you left without hearing the words that I needed you to
HOPE YOU FIND IT
Cher's emotional upheaval continues (rewardingly). She clearly hasn't heard of facebook stalking – I can only assume this guy’s privacy settings go beyond the singer’s famously skilled internet abilities. The corn syrup is poured generously, and yet this could fit on pretty much any of her albums from the 70s onwards (I Paralyze in particular). The waltzing verses are soft, conversational, bereft, deflated, and just lovely. The chorus is a big old country-tinged gloop-fest (or the most depressing line-dance ever), but I can't say I don't let myself be swallowed completely whole in all its overwrought glory. On what could be quite a faceless MOR offering, Cher’s intimate flair really brings it to life. Admittedly, the emotion of Cher’s barnyard howl quickly overflows with all the grace of a blocked toilet, but that isn’t unexpected. It really does flow like an actual letter - I just dread to think of Miley's original reading.
Oh, fuck, just lie to me
LIE TO ME
Who knew Pink could be so beige? Once again, she writes one of her trademark lugubrious broken-girl anthems, this time in the form of a ballad, which at least has a Spanish gypsy aroma to keep it going. It's nice to hear Cher sing "babe" again, especially since the last time that comes to mind was with Beavis & Butthead (“well, yeah”), but the lyrics are owning up to cheating from both sides - why not TELL THE TRUTH and just have an open relationship? Cher's dating a former Hell's Angels member, I'm sure there are worse ideas they could think of. "The truth is overrated" indeed. For jarring with the album's concept alone this should have been ditched faster than the script to Faithfull. (Edit: in the month or so that has passed since I wrote this review, I now consider this to be rather effective and Cher's passion is palpable).
WILL YOU WAIT FOR ME
I'm not even going to wait for the song to end. Dreadful, and it doesn’t count quite frankly.
I was broooooouuuuuuuuught down to my knees
YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE LAST OF ME
The Dave Aude remix (above) gets a much higher pass than the clunky original, with the chunky trance take-off usurping the Warren-schmaltz into something magical.
Closer To The Truth more than re-boots the Living Proof formula. The lava flow of searing dance rhythms and melodies that are even bigger than her wigs are her best lifts since her late 80s procedures, and unlike her 90s ones go too far in a good way. Quite simply, this is the best dance-pop LP since, well, LP. Of all the living legends, CHER, with her unknowable exotica, graduates to the very top (just not of the charts). The truth is out there – go buy it.