For someone whose name is synonymous with fierce individuality and bucking the trend, it seems pop icon Cyndi Lauper has been paying particular attention to the charts of late.
Despite well-documented comparisons and eventual rivalry early on in her career with fellow pop songstress Madonna, both artists eventually carved out their own niches, each securing loyal fanbases. It’s surprising, then, that Ms Lauper’s tenth studio album takes its cues from Madonna’s new-millennium makeover and is, put simply, a dance record. It’s a brave declaration of a new sound for the singer, not just the shift in musical style but notably in her singing, too; the vocals are considerably muted compared to her past work. With its gentle beats, breathy chorus and occasional guitar sample, ‘High & Mighty’ doesn’t make for the best introduction; instead, it comes across as a rather lacklustre effort that would remain unnoticed had it been released by any other dance artist in an already overcrowded genre.
Any initial reservations, however, are soon blown away with ‘Echo’ and ‘Into The Nightlife’, the latter a sure-fire disco anthem with a soaring chorus that instructs the listener to “shake your moneymaker” and sees Cyndi vying for position atop Madge’s giant glittery disco ball – should this track reach a wider audience, Madonna might just have a fight on her hands. Anyone requiring further explanation of Lauper’s stylistic transformation need look no further than the high-NRG beats of ‘Give It Up’; a lyric like “new direction / got to get to high ground / I got to get back to the floor” leaves no room for doubting her love of all things disco and cements her necessity to return to the dance floor.
And it’s not just the dance-influenced material that bears a resemblance to Madonna but the obvious borrowing of styles in order to update an image, most evident in ‘Lyfe’ (note that spelling), a confrontational, R&B number complete with brief rapping interlude. The quirky pop of Gwen Stefani also rears its head on ‘Rocking Chair’, a collaboration with Basement Jaxx. Repetitive chorus, awkward beats, cheerleader-style backing shouts and a distinctly urban edge – it’s got everything but originality, and that’s a shame for a women who, twenty years ago, was the undisputed queen of this sort of thing. ‘Rocking Chair’ may be a startling departure from her previous work but it’s derivative at best.
Still, when the songs are good, they are very good indeed. ‘Into The Nightlife’, ‘Echo’ and first single ‘Same Ol’ Story’ are anthemic floor-fillers sure to have wide appeal. It’s only when Bring Ya To The Brink occasionally strays into more urban-flavoured material that Lauper’s shameless cherrypicking from current trends becomes apparent. Her efforts, while done proficiently, do not appear entirely credible, leaving us in the strange position of concluding that, this time around, Cyndi Lauper is anything but unusual.
[RCA; July 21, 2008]