Thursday, September 18, 2014

Girls Just Want To ... Sing Sappy Aerobic Rock Ballads?

After just one song, did the world think it knew Cyndi Lauper? Well, Cyndi had other ideas. Or rather, maybe that was the idea all along. According to Wikipedia, "Initially Epic Records wanted 'Time After Time' as the album's lead-single. However, Lauper claimed that releasing a ballad first defines an artist in a certain way, noting that she could have been known as a balladeer and that it could have killed her career." The irony being, of course, that after She's So Unusual, Cyndi ended up primarily becoming known as a balladeer, but at least it was her choice.

Nonetheless, I'm still on the fence over how well her idiosyncratic vocal style, so suitable for dance-pop, works with balladry. For instance: when she sings "And darkness has turned to grey," the word "grey" almost sounds like "crack," and just another couple of lines later, the word "OK" almost manages to have three syllables in it. Also, usually when I say that a song sounds "incredibly, inescapably '80s," that's the highest praise in the world, but because, simply as a composition, "Time After Time" feels so much like a classic pop standard, I kind of wonder if the production, particularly the overpowering, synthesized bass line that sounds like it flowed right out of Giorgio Moroder's bowels, does the song a bit of a disservice. I almost wish I could hear what "Time After Time" would have sounded like if it had been been recorded by the Beatles. But that's probably true of any song. Well, maybe not "The Macarena."

Based on the opening minute of the video, it might be fair to say that Cyndi herself still had reservations about coming off too "sensitive" and "touchy-feely": she's lying in bed in a trailer, mouthing every word to the Marlene Dietrich film The Garden Of Allah, apparently clutching a giant porcelain dog. But once the song starts, things get a little squishy: she imagines seeing her mother in a doorway (the same real-life mother from the "Girls" video), fights with her boyfriend (after he teases her for getting a haircut that looks like she accidentally fell on a grate), and finally gives a dramatic train station goodbye that could have come straight out of an old Hollywood tear-jerker. According to Wikipedia, Cyndi's tears were real. By the end of it all, this video is actually kind of genuinely ... sad. Like, for reals.
Although it was the final hit off She's So Unusual, I have to say that "All Through The Night" kicks just as much fluorescent bracelet ass as the other three. The original version, by its songwriter Jules Shear, sounds like some sort of klezmer polka karaoke number, but somehow Cyndi heard a hit in there. Beginning with a sparkling synthesizer arpeggio (I'm pretty sure that's what it's called, and if it's not, well, that's what it's called now), the single quickly establishes an introspective, late night, after-party vibe, with a touch of the same slightly reggae flavor that "Girls" utilized. As opposed to the original version, Cyndi maximizes the power of the chorus by 1) keeping the verses really spare and percussion-free, and 2) letting a male voice join her on the chorus, almost turning the song into a duet. Then, at about the 2:10 mark, we're treated to a synthesizer solo that was apparently played by Pac-Man (or possibly Mrs. Pac-Man - my sources differ).

I suppose her singing is strident and affecting, but again, thanks to her interesting pronunciation choices, at times it's just so ... unusual. Some examples:
  • She turns the word "crying" into "kwy-ing."
  • In the line, "And it goes running," she puts the stress on "it." Seriously, who puts the stress on "it"?
  • For years I thought the word "meter" was actually "needle" and she simply just inserted a rogue "t" in there.
  • I thought "we won't reach back" was "we want respect." Was Rodney Dangerfield supposed to do this at some point?
  • I thought "same without saying" was "sadness outside." Still kind of works.
  • I thought "what by day they lack" was "what binding they lack." Why was the need for binding so urgent? God, if they only had some binding!
However, smart choice to let the chorus repeat an extra time (around 3:10). It's like the sound of a couple that just wants to let the magical evening linger a little longer before they have to say goodbye. It's like when you "fall back" in Daylight Savings Time and you realize that even though you'll still have to go to work in the morning, at least you get to stay up an extra hour and play video games.

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