The working title for the follow-up album to Cher’s 1998 chart-blazing juggernaut, Believe, was Son of Believe, according to comments issued to the press by the newly platinum-wigged icon. That temporary moniker is vintage Cher — a bold, unapologetic statement that says: I had no intention of breaking new ground with this album (now titled Living Proof). Instead, the 55-year-old singer, armed with a cadre of hip producers and her trusty vocoder voice enhancer, is intent on making listeners “believe” that she remains the grand matriarch of dance-pop. I wouldn’t say the album is the son of Believe, but rather a younger brother whose is intent on mimicking every tic, every action, of his older brother-the true star of the family.
Quite often, however, the younger brother’s antics are entertaining in their own right, as is the case with Living Proof. For example, The album’s first single, “(This is) A Song for the Lonely”, is an infectious, energetic track that rides the waves of predictable synth pads and pulsating beats, while delivering a message that is achingly emotional and somber. According to an article on Billboard.com, when a manager of a New York City Borders Books & Music played a promo of the track in the store, New Yorkers were stopping “dead in their tracks”. New Yorkers? Stopping for anything, let alone a Cher song? It’s an interesting testament as to how powerful the message of the song truly is, especially in the afterburn of September 11.
Also noteworthy is the fourth track on the album, “A Different Kind of Love Song”, a toe-tappin’, head-bobbin’, radio-friendly song that functions as a perfectly acceptable piece of dance-pop, though it will need some remix work by Tracy Young or Hex Hector if it is ever to find its way to a dance floor.
Despite the mind-numbing simplicity of their titles, “Alive Again” and “Real Love” are also stand-outs on Living Proof, as is Cher’s remake of Amber’s smash-hit “Love One Another”. (A special nod of thanks goes to collaborators Rick Nowles (Madonna, Celine Dion), Chicane and the Norwegian team, Stargate for powering much of the album’s dance-vibe energy.)
The album is, however, flecked with imperfections, flaws that simply can not be buffed out, even by superstar collaborators, or Believe veteran-producers, Mark Taylor and Brian Rawlings. Starting with the album’s opening track, “The Music’s No Good Without You”, where Cher’s voice has been manipulated to such an extent she sounds like the embodiment of a haunted extra-terrestrial, whatever that is. And then there’s “Rain, Rain”, a weak, broiler-plate love song that limps along without any of the singer’s trademark moxie and passion. One reviewer called the song a poor knock-off of Toni Braxton’s “Another Sad Love Song”, and he’s right. From Toni, we want breathy, restrained, heat; From Cher, we expect anything but restraint. And then there’s “Body to Body, Heart to Heart”, a Latin-influenced tune that will make even the most casual Cher fan wince in disappointment.
Left to the stylings of another vocalist or performer, many of the songs on Living Proof, would fall flat under the weight of their own banality. But of course, it’s the mythology surrounding the incomparable Cherilyn Sarkasian LaPier that puffs these songs up into fluffy, airy bits of pop, into songs that continue to soothe and inspire us, not because of the music, but because of who is singing it.