[9 October 2013]
When the Farewell Tour concluded after a record 326 dates, having been expanded multiple times during its run, there was reason enough to think that “Farewell” might be the wrong word to use. Sure, Cher may have taken time off from releasing new music and actively touring worldwide – including her successful run at the Colosseum – but while she may have not released any new music since Living Proof until now, she always gave off the aura of a performer who would never be content resting on her laurels, wasting away the days in a placid retirement. With the release of Closer to the Truth, and further down the road in March of 2014 when the Dressed to Kill tour begins, then the return that her most die-hard fans have been waiting for will arrive.
Cher has always been a polarizing force in terms of musical taste: those who love her often love her unconditionally, and those who hate her, hate her with a passion. She deserves credit for being able to laugh at herself, quipping about how after the apocalypse, the only thing left would be cockroaches and her. As for the music on Closer to the truth, absence truly has made the heart grow fonder. Cher rocketed back to universal acclaim and No. 1 success in 1998 with “Believe”, and she could have chosen to continue mining that same vein for repeated outings all throughout the 2000s, and, likely as not, there would have been some missteps sprinkled in amidst the better works. Calling it quits for a while after Living Proof helped her to dodge a bullet: here she sounds revived and refreshed, and not at all stale.
Truly it is a “Woman’s World” with opening track and lead single spinning a mid-tempo dance number that’s not quite as spunky as “Believe” or “Song for the Lonely” but shines with all the accoutrements of today’s mid-tempo EDM, fused with Cher’s style as only she can do it. Here she continues to show a canny ability to take what she already knows about music and update it for the sounds of the moment; what makes it more impressive is that she’s still doing it so well this far into her career. Not every pop titan who employs this trick has managed to stay savvy using this approach as the years have gone by (see also: Madonna’s trying-too-hard MDNA). And while the stomping, layered “Take It Like a Man” joins a first half of solid made-for-the-club cuts, here she uses, and perhaps abuses, the Antares vocal manipulation that she used so cannily on “Believe.” On that track, it was deftly slipped in, and just a mild embellishment to add a little variety. More than that, it was done by a (even then) veteran performer who the listening public knew wasn’t using it to hide an inability to sing. Here, and even more so on “Dressed to Kill” it just feels over-done and it distracts from what are, at the core, still solid disco-ball-spinners done Cher style.
Mercifully, she turns the tech tricks down for “Red”, even if the lyrics are a bit trite, it’s still another fine entry in this stack of tunes. And as for the lyrics being trite, that hardly matters when she sells the songs with the kind of passion she’s been known for since her days performing in Sonny & Cher. Sure, her whole career hasn’t been perfect where this is concerned, but finding an artist whose career is that perfect is next to impossible.
Speaking of the album’s mood and speed overall, more than a few critiques of this album suggest it would have been better as a front to back stack of full-speed-ahead disco burners. This ignores that while Cher does these well, that there is more she is capable of than just churning out club fillers. The final four tracks are a fine “after party” to the sped-up furor that informs the first seven songs on the album. Led off by the almost U2-aping “Sirens” – with all its echoed guitar and layered harmonies – it gets off to a great start, and it comes to an elegant, heart-wrenching close with “Lie to Me”, here giving the listener a track that truly lets her voice shine. Some have called her vocal talents limited, this is only half-true. Having the ability to push your voice all over the scale and indulge in excessive flights ofvariety is not a talent all by itself (the real talent there is taking that range and using it to create a vocal performance that has depth and expression.)
What this means for Cher is she knows what she is capable of, and she makes it into something beautiful. It is a little ragged around the edges at times, but this is the sound of careworn experience, not of a performer too long in the tooth who ought to hang up the microphone. Truly, the sound of her voice as it is here – free of the AutoTune-drenched manipulation that some of the early tracks are filled with – it’s enough to make one wish she believed in her voice enough (no pun intended) to use it on an album that is 100 percent effects free. This small quibble aside, Cher has provided a welcome return to the music world with Closer to the Truth.