Monday, 13 May 2013
D CDs #487: "Unusual" Hardly Covers It...
Oftentimes, the most interesting questions are the ones you'd never think to ask. For example: what happens when you craft A-grade dance pop and hand it to a woman who sings like a demented eight-year old using a sugar rush to fight a head-cold?
Inside Cyndi Lauper's brain, there is a dial. This dial can be turned to any point on the range between "singing" and "shrieking melodic insanity". As a result, each track on She's So Unusual poses its own pair of questions: where will the dial be, and how well will the song deal with it?
On "Time After Time", the dial is near zero, and the result is a delightful piece of slow-tempo pop that I recognised but had forgotten was Lauper's, it being so many miles away from the full-throttle yelp of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun". On "I'll Kiss You", the dial is maxed out, but the song itself is so bonkers - basically a tale of a woman buying increasingly strong love-potions from gypsies so she can drug the object of her desires and subject him to low-grade sexual assault - that it all works perfectly; a gloriously askew bubblegum delight. Things work less well on, say, album opener "Money Changes Everything", in which one of the greatest slices of synth pop the '80s produced is dragged down by Lauper's slurry drawl-bellow. This is not to say a wonderful song is ruined, but the damage is noticeable.
Elsewhere the balance is just about maintained. "Girls..." has suffered a little from thirty years of familiarity, but there's no question it deserves its fame. The Prince-penned "When You Were Mine" is another song for which the dial is perhaps a shade high, but Lauper is helped here by some histrionic lyrics that allows things to stay in the realm of melodrama rathe than exhibitionism - and it's pretty good melodrama, too. And if the album is more than a little front-loaded (later tracks "She Bop" and "Witness" make little impression, and "He's So Unusual" is basically a 45 second intro to the final track that it absolutely doesn't need), the aforementioned "I'll Kiss You" and the tightly-wound closer "Yeah Yeah" keep things humming along.
It should also be noted that at under 39 minutes, this is a very tight package, and removes the risk of Lauper's vocal hysterics becoming just that little too much. Instead, what you get is both an impressive collection of solid songs - and at least two full-on classics - and a delicious time-capsule from a decade in which an album's personnel list could include a hair stylist without a trace of irony.