Review: Cyndi Lauper’s “Bring Ya To The Brink”

May 30, 2008 11:13am

It’s been 25 years since a then orange-haired Cyndi Lauper gave us her classic album “She’s So Unusual.”  “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “Time After Time,” “All Through the Night”  and “She Bop” are still solid eighties-flashback staples. That album’s still considered the peak of her career.  In the years since, though, Lauper has really grown and matured quite nicely.  She was never a run-of-the-mill pop-star.  That was evident from the start.  Throughout her career she has never really has sold out, either.  Sure, there have been the oddball moves (like her bizarre connections in the world of wrestling) but everything she has done has seemed like a natural extension of her off-beat personality.  She could have spent the last 25 years easily singing the catchiest of pop-tunes if she wanted, but she’s taken a much more progressive and honorable route.  She’s always had one of the most impressive, distinctive voices around. I’m sure she could put her own spin on just about anything and make it her own.    In recent years, Lauper has been laying low and showcasing some other sides of her personality.  In 2003, she released “At Last,” a solid, mellow but heavily skilled album of covers of some of her favorite songs.  In 2005 she released “The Body Acoustic,” which was even better, with acoustic re-workings of her classic hits. “Bring Ya To The Brink” is the polar opposite of both those albums, considering it’s an in-your-face dance album.  If you are a Lauper fan who somehow has an aversion to house or trance music, you might want to steer clear.  This is an album made for the clubs and her club-based fans.  She always had a bit of a dance diva in her, but here she really allows that side to shine. This is a collection of thumping dance music led by a truly capable performer. It opens with “High and Mighty” which shows the album’s overall sound with its incessant beat and its low bass-line.  These aren’t always the happiest sounding dance songs.  They are more slinky and dark.  On this one, Lauper keeps her vocal level to a low to medium range as she repeats the phrase “livin’ high and mighty.”  She uses the upper reaches of her register for punctuating background vocal-work.  For a dance song, it’s pretty low key, but it’s effective.  It’s for the clubs and thus, it serves its purpose. Seamlessly the tracks change and another low, creaky electro-clash bass line begins “Into the Nightlife.”  This is a more vibrant club hit with a brighter chorus to contrast the darker verses.  It should be a hit.  “Rocking Chair” is a quirky song to add to the Lauper catalog.  It too relies on an electro-clash style background.  What’s really funny is how in the distance in the mix you can hear Lauper shouting the verse lyrics in response to the sung lyrics.  She’s buried in the mix, but with some cool distortion she sounds like she’s on a distant phone-line yelling to be heard.  The song is a little insane, but rather infectious.  Some listeners might find it irritating the way Lauper says the lines, “rock me here, rock me there, rock me in my rocking chair.”  Those people are probably the same closed-minded people who couldn’t see beyond her orange hair 25 years ago.  Those people are not Lauper fans. (These days Lauper is blonde.)  “Echo” is one of the album’s strongest cuts.  It is a warm and welcoming groove with a spaced-out edge.  Again it relies on a rather basic house/trance beat and Lauper’s delivery during the verses is hushed, but it gives way to a monster of a chorus.  This song is a Lauper classic waiting to happen! The chorus of “Lyfe” gives us the album’s title and it’s an authoritative, bluesy dance cut.  Lauper doesn’t sing as high or as loudly as she used to, but this track proves she doesn’t have to in order to command a track.  She’s still a dynamic vocal presence.  Whereas most of the other tracks use the dance beat well, “Same Ol’ Story” is a little too clichéd in its arrangement, and makes you want to bob your head in a not-so-genuine fashion.  It’s a shame, because Lauper’s delivery as always is strong. Its chorus is the reason for the parental warning on the cover. It should probably be a hit, but only on the most mainstream dance music stations.  “Raging Storm” also suffers from a little cheesy arrangement, and its world-gone-wrong message.  Once again, though it is saved a little by Lauper herself.  Her double-tracked vocals in different octaves are worth admission even if the song itself seems tired.  “Lay Me Down” brings back the warmth, and glow.  It’s not as strong as “Echo” but it’s a soft-edged, atmospheric, soulful exercise.  In contrast “Give It Up” has a lot of energy, but will only appeal to the most die-hard club music fans.  It’s got some righteous get-up-and-go, but it can wear out its welcome pretty quickly.
“Set Your Heart” casts Lauper as a disco diva. It’s a role she plays rather well.  The track urges its subject to embrace the liberation which follows heartbreak. It’s an empowering song about not letting the world’s ills get you down.  “You’re free,” she exclaims at the peak of the track.    “Grab a Hold” joins “Echo” and “Lay Me Down” as one of the album’s highlights.  It shows us a glimpse of the new-wave influenced Cyndi Lauper of yesteryear.  There’s something nice and familiar about the track’s sound, yet it also has elements of the album’s new style.  It’s a merging of old and new.  The album ends on a high note with the bold ballad “Rain on Me” which is served well by its subtle go-go backing beat.  This is the kind of track Lauper was born to sing and it finally allows her to stretch out her voice a little more. The track also has some stellar use of electronic sounds.  A lot of this album was produced by Swedish producers like Kleerup and Peer Astrom, but that makes sense because no one does pop quite like the Swedes.  Lauper can pull an album like this off because she has some great skill.  In the hands of a lesser talent, this could sound like a stale gimmick.  Not so, here.  This may not quite be the Cyndi Lauper you remember, but it’s still the return of a warm, friendly voice of an often way too undervalued artist. “Bring Ya To The Brink” may have its uneven spots, but its highlights are essential.  If you like club music, this one is for you.

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