Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Energetic And Intriguing, Cyndi Lauper Remembers How To Shine!

The Good: Great musical diversity, Decent themes, Moments of voice
The Bad: Some painful singsong rhymes, Moments of overproduced vocals
The Basics: Cyndi Lauper may not have achieved commercial recognition with Shine, but it remains a powerful album well worth giving attention to.

Of all the Artist Of The Month artists I have focused on, I suspect there is none that I feel as badly for as Cyndi Lauper, who is my current Artist Of The Month. Shine is only the third full album of Lauper’s that I have listened to and it was her eighth album and is generally regarded as a pretty colossal commercial flop. But Lauper actually has a lot to say and Shine is a distinctive album in that almost every song has a very different sound and feel to it, much like Sophie B. Hawkins’s album Timbre (reviewed here!) or Heather Nova’s album South (reviewed here!), but it still sounds good as a album. In other words, each song is different, but the album somehow manages to hold together instead of sounding like a hodgepodge or a bad mix tape.

Lauper, though, is the study of a resilient artist who peaked early (her debut album remains her best-selling album of her career by a pretty decent margin), but continues to produce. It seems that with each outing, she asserts more creative control and, in general, the results are better and better. Unfortunately for Lauper, despite having something to say and having genuine integrity as a musical artist, Lauper has never retaken her position on the charts (while contemporaries of hers, most notably, Madonna, have occasionally reinvented themselves). Shine illustrates well how fickle the market can be; Shine seems to have everything that should have made it a success. . . but it wasn’t.

With thirteen songs, clocking out at 54:47, Shine was very much the creative work of Cyndi Lauper. In addition to providing all of the lead vocals, Lauper co-wrote the entire album. Lauper also co-produced Shine with her frequent collaborator, William Whitman. Given that Lauper produced the album for a small label, it seems like Shine was very much the creative vision of Cyndi Lauper, without her having to compromise to a corporate interest with its production.

Shine has a decent range of musical styles on it, though it is very much a rock and roll album. From the rock ballad “Who Let In The Rain” to “It’s Hard To Be Me,” which sounds like a lost Avril Lavigne track, Shine plays along a rock spectrum that is more distinct and edgy than Lauper’s early albums. With the electric guitars on “Madonna Whore,” Lauper establishes herself as someone who has completely left behind her pop princess roots and is prepared to rock with the best of them.

Surprisingly, despite the more sophisticated instrumentals on Shine, Cyndi Lauper manages to make all of her lines well-heard on the album. This is not an album where her vocals get drowned out, even on the songs with the loudest guitars. Lauper sings fast, but sweet, for most of “Comfort You” and is produced in such a way that her lines can be perfectly heard. On the opening song, “Shine,” Lauper sets the tone of the album with vocals that do not sound at all nasal; each word is clear and the tones are natural. On a few tracks, most notably “This Kind Of Love” where she sounds like Madonna, Lauper’s vocals are less natural-sounding and the album does not have any songs where her vocals dominate the track. This is an album where she stays very much in her mid-range without straining her lungs or going into the higher registers much.

That said, Cyndi Lauper clearly has a lot to say on Shine. Anyone who can make music out of one of Freud’s theories – as Lauper does on “Madonna Whore” – deserves some attention! Poetically, Lauper has some compelling musical story-songs. Perhaps one of her best of all time is “Eventually.” Lauper develops a whole story with the lines “I met a man / And talked about you / He seemed like a man from Osaka I knew / And he listened while I told him how you hurt me / And he consoled me when he told me he'd been hurt too / And he said we are inter-dependent / And the effects on each other never ending” (“Eventually”) and she makes it musical and intriguing to the ear.

As poetic as Lauper gets, Shine gets off to a somewhat awkward start. One of the consequences of having lyrics that are presented with crystal clarity is that the lines can be heard and painfully predictable rhymes grate upon the ear. While Lauper does not fall into that trap too often (repetition seems to be more her problem), it is hard not to cringe when one hears “You see me everywhere, in my underwear / You may wonder what I'm here to sell / But underneath my stare, I'm so naked there / There are secrets I'm dying to tell” (“It’s Hard To Be Me”).

Not only singing about relationships, Lauper sings about connection with energy on songs like “Higher Plane.” Without making a party anthem, Lauper wrote “Rhythm is my spirit / Rhythm is my speech / Rhythm is pulsating / The rhythm of the street / (Ahh) Ooo... to find myself in the still of the thunder / (Ahh) Ooo... 'til another moment passing by pulls me under... pulls me under” (“Higher Plane”) and managed to capture the connection of dancing together wonderfully!

Shine might not have charted a single, but hearing the album now, one is left with the enduring question of “why?” While musical trends rise and fall, enduringly compelling music ought to shine out of it and away from hype machines and promotion, Cyndi Lauper’s Shine deserves to find its audience which will appreciate it. It certainly resonated with me!

The best song is “Rather Be With You,” the low point is the repetitive and somewhat dull “Valentino.”

For other, former, Artist Of The Month selections, please check out my reviews of:
@#%&*! Smilers - Aimee Mann
Goodbye Alice In Wonderland - Jewel
MTV Unplugged – 10,000 Maniacs


Check out my full library of music reviews have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page which has a clear !

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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