She's SO '80s
So, let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: I am an unrepentant ‘80s music whore. I go beyond the “I love this song because it reminds me of roller skating on Friday nights when I used to have a crush on Robby Brandon in the 6th grade” thing that most of my friends will only reluctantly admit to. Indeed, I am willing to gladly take it one step farther and say, with a straight face, that Duran Duran is one of my favorite bands of all time. I still think Tears For Fears have some of the best harmonies since The Everly Brothers and Queen, I would give my left one for a Tones on Tales reunion, and I truly do miss Sheila E in her see-through leggings and glow-in-the-dark drumsticks; it’s just not the same since she became the musical director of Magic Johnson’s ill-fated late night talk show. I can admit all of this with no shame.
Now that that’s settled, it seems natural that I would snap up the re-release of Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough album, She’s So Unusual. After all, I never would have had the courage to checker-board my hair had it not been for the video for “Time After Time”, and I haven’t heard “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” since the last wedding reception I attended. But more than that, I remember really liking Cyndi Lauper, and despite her miserable attempt to cover Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On?”, I always kinda thought she was really spirited and cool.
Maybe my expectations were too high, then, because even to my primed ‘80s ears, so ready and willing to re-embrace the decade of decadence, She’s So Unusual doesn’t quite cut it anymore. There are a few tracks that stand out and probably always will, namely the gorgeous “Time After Time”, “All Through the Night”, and “She Bop”, which introduced the hiccup-singing that Michael Jackson now uses almost exclusively. But the rest of the album sounds more than dated: it sounds damn near anachronistic. Songs like “Money Changes Everything”, and especially “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” betray the worse impulses of the ‘80s—overproduce everything, layer it with keyboards (or synthesizers, as we called them back in the day), make it perky in all its conformity to the Lionel Ritchie school of song writing, throw it on a cute face, and voila! It kinda pains me to say it, but whatever giddiness that was once harbored in these songs is categorically gone now, and it’s been replaced by a nasal annoyance. And whoever told Cyndi that covering Prince’s classic “When You Were Mine” was a good idea…well, you know the rest.
The weird thing is that listening through this album, which I just about wore out at the time of its initial release, songs like “I’ll Kiss You”, The Yoko Ono rip-off “Yeah Yeah”, and the absolutely horrifying “Witness” didn’t even ring a bell. The only songs that I could even hum along with were the one with the built-in nostalgia, the singles with catchy videos to conjure up. It’s a bit shocking, since Cyndi’s more recent work, like Sisters of Avalon and Hat Full of Stars, clearly prove her to be an accomplished song writer and a talented vocalist. But you’d never know it, listening to She’s So Unusual. Chock it up to immaturity, perhaps, or a curse of the times, but unless you, too, had a crush on Robby Brandon in the 6th grade, She’s So Unusual doesn’t have much to offer.