Cyndi Lauper, the ‘80s pop star whose rise to fame coincided with/was due to the explosion of MTV, burst onto the scene in 1984 with her landmark debut album. She’s So Unusual, which featured such ‘80s defining songs as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “True Colors”, and “Time After Time”, was paralleled very closely by another hit album that year, Madonna’s Like a Virgin, and has since sold nine million copies.
Lauper was neck and neck with Madonna in terms of popularity and infectious pop anthems, and the fact that “Material Girl” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” came out in the same year made the ushering in of a new generation of pop stars and hits all too clear and simple. Trouble is, throughout her career Lauper has never even come close to the success of her debut, whereas 20 years on, Madonna continues to be, well, Madonna.
And now Cyndi Lauper is in her 50s, has a handful of greatest hits albums under her belt, and has seemingly disappeared from the mainstream pop radar throughout the last decade and into this one. So, in a move of rejuvenation that still relies almost entirely on the past, we get The Body Acoustic.
The Body Acoustic finds her voice in raspy, beautiful form, being more emotive than it has ever been. The album features two new songs and 10 of her hits (five of which are from her debut), sung and performed in collaboration with such big name artists as Sarah McLachlan, Jeff Beck and Ani DiFranco. The arrangements, as the title suggests, are largely acoustic, sometimes featuring a full backing band and other times merely Cyndi and guitar, making this stripped down, best-of a great listen and a commendable, inventive approach.
And certainly, inventive is a positive adjective, but the problem lies in the fact that if you are in the mood to kick on some Cyndi Lauper, the chances are you don’t want to hear a slow, driving, Americana version of “She Bop” (no matter how hard you try to have a dark slide guitar and eerie whistles, the song just ain’t a murder ballad). In other words, Lauper’s music was very functional in the ‘80s—it was pure unadulterated fun, with that wonderfully big and cheesy ‘80s pop production to go with it. So what happens if you take it too seriously?
Elsewhere, the usually enjoyable “All Through The Night” here features Shaggy and it is, naturally, a complete mess. Shaggy does his Shaggy “I’ma-I’ma-something-hey-ha!!!” throughout and it’s as ill-conceived and atrociously executed as you might think. The two new songs for the collection, “Above the Clouds” and “I’ll Be Your River”, are both straightforward, unremarkable ballads.
“Shine” finds Lauper’s phrasing in its best form, and “Sisters of Avalon”, featuring Vivan Green and the glorious Ani DiFranco, is the song that best captures the Lauper spirit of undeniable exuberance. The three strong-vocal performances from these three women make this track the embodiment of, ahem, girls having fun.
Many of the older songs do have solid depth that shines in these arrangements, like “Time After Time” and “True Colors”, but of course both of those songs have been covered ad nauseum in similar arrangements over the last 20 years on both mainstream records (Eva Cassidy, Phil Collins) and in coffee houses across the country. Meaning, the thunder of this conceptualization and execution was largely stolen from Lauper by a host of other artists. That being said, the “Time After Time” with McLachlan is not only worth the price of admission of this disc but the definitive version of the song.
// Notes from the Road
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