Marcia Hines is one of my all time favourite singers. I've worshipped Marcia for as long as I can remember and recently named her one of my top 10 pop trash divas. Naturally, I was rather excited when my signed copy of Marcia's new album, "Life", arrived in the post yesterday. Marcia's last album was THE trashy pop moment of 2006 and I expected this collection of covers to have a similar flavour. It's something of an understatement to say that I was wrong. "Discotheque" had the humble goal of getting you on the dancefloor. "Life", however, boldly aspires to be the musical equivalent of a self-help book. It even comes with a booklet of life lessons penned by Marcia herself! Putting the CD into my stereo, I expected the worst but "Life" is a spiritual experience. I decided to put my cynicism aside for an hour and immerse myself in the Marcia Hines guide to happiness and enlightenment.
Preface - Listen
"Life" works on two separate levels. There is a written booklet with Marcia's words of wisdom and an accompanying song on the album. Marcia's musical self-help book kicks off with "Listen", a bizarre one minute intro that involves a lot of chanting. In the booklet, Marcia introduces the album by setting out her life philosophy ("I allow my spirit to create my imagination") and describes the album as a celebration of "love, loss, family, friends, strength and survival". So far, so good!
Chapter 1 - No Need To Fear
"Everybody Hurts" has to be one of the most grating songs ever recorded. REM's original makes me gag and I didn't expect much from Marcia's version. Therefore, it came as a massive surprise that the track not only works, it sounds rather lovely. Marcia writes "if we weren't meant to cry, we wouldn't have tear ducts" and recounts her battle with diabetes. I'm beginning to feel strangely emotional.
Chapter 2 - Mr And Mrs Each Day
The album continues with an astonishingly beautiful cover of Lisa Stansfield's "All Woman". Few songs written after 1970 capture as much soul as Lisa's modern classic and Marcia does the song proud with one of her finest vocal performances. Marcia singing "I may not be a classy lady but I'm all woman" gives me chills. A definite album highlight. Marcia writes "one man's trash is another man's treasure". Amen, sister! Marcia also notes that she's been married 4 times and engaged another two times.
Chapter 3 - The Path We Walk
The world doesn't need another cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" as Madonna aptly proved with her horrendous rendition. Marcia's beautiful voice does the song more justice but the choir backing is too over the top - even for me! "Some days are diamonds, some stone" muses Marcia in the booklet before describing being visited by spirits as a child. I'm serious!
Chapter 4 - No Matter What
Oleta Adams' "Get Here" is one of my all time favourite songs and its message of determination is the perfect choice to illustrate Marcia's lesson about overcoming the obstacles to love. This is a near perfect cover version, exquisitely produced and expertly performed. Marcia advises "if you inhale love, you will exhale love". I'm starting to get misty eyed again.
Chapter 5 - Unrequited Love
Marcia covers Toni Braxton and hilarity ensues. "Breathe Again" stands out from other 90s R'n'B ballads due to Toni's unusually deep vocal register and Babyface's deft production. Marcia's interpretation is too restrained. "Breathe Again" is a song for desperate lovesick whores, not classy ladies like Ms Hines. One of the album's few missteps. However, Marcia's advice is as admirable as ever, stating "you don't always get the relationship you want, you sometimes get the relationship you deserve". I must have done something bad in a past life to deserve the cast of clowns that I've dated!
Chapter 6 - Making Your Own Way
One of the highlights of "Life" is Marcia's version of "God Bless The Child". The song choice is particularly interesting because Marcia's superstar daughter covered Billie Holiday's classic on her recent "The Other Woman" album. Who wins the battle of the Hines? I'd have to give it to Deni's understated effort but this is fabulous too. Marcia writes "pick your mark, strike your pose and go for it!" Fierce! This chapter of the booklet is by far the most revealing. Marcia comments on bringing up Deni, addresses the criticism that has been directed at her judging style on Australian Idol and even takes Dicko to task on his treatment of Paulini for wearing that gold dress. Fascinating!
Chapter 7 - Through Thick And Thin
Few modern songs have been covered as often as The Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You". Most of them are god awful (the Girls Aloud abomination, for example) but Marcia's version gets it right. This is a lighter in the air anthem of the highest order. Marcia devotes this chapter to the importance of friendship, describing friends as "angels" and "treasure chests". Fabulously, Marcia manages to throw in a sly reference to her induction to the ARIA Hall Of Fame. By this stage, I had come to realise that Marcia speaks the truth and find myself well and truly under her spell.
Chapter 8 - The Inner Beauty Shining
Removing my tongue from my cheek for a minute, chapter 8 is truly inspiring. Marcia says "treasure the darkness and look towards the light" before commenting on her friendship with the recently deceased Belinda Emmett. The message couldn't be more beautiful but I'm not sure how Marcia's raunchy interpretation of Aretha's "You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman" is representative of it! I really hope Marcia's next album is a collection of soul covers. She breathes new life into this classic.
Chapter 9 - Leaving To Live
Marcia turns her attention to The Beatles with an inspired cover of "She's Leaving Home". This is perhaps the most adventurous song on the album. The production is intricate and really quite eccentric. "She's Leaving Home" is really quite epic. Marcia writes about Deni moving out of home and touchingly recounts sitting in Deni's empty room, wondering how "the years had passed so quickly". Awwww!
Chapter 10 - Words Unspoken
Mike & The Mechanics took "The Living Years" to number one in Australia in May 1989. I was too young to fully understand the lyrics at the time but I always found the song strangely confronting. As such, it's a perfect choice for Marcia's most confronting lesson - coping with death. Marcia recalls both her father's death and her brother's suicide. This is a heavy chapter but Marcia's direct approach is comforting.
Chapter 11 - Sex The Drug
From death to sex, Marcia's walk through the pitfalls and joys of life is nothing if not comprehensive. I have to say, reading Marcia's views on sex is the equivalent of watching porn with your parents (or so I imagine)! However, I was greatly amused by Marcia's reminder that sex isn't "just for the young folks" and her very rational advice of consulting a tarot reader when you have a new suitor! Marcia's sexual adventure is accompanied by a delightful cover of Sade's "No Ordinary Love". Hot!
Chapter 12 - Empty Hearts And Empty Rooms
The penultimate song in Marcia's musical self-help book is a cover of Dionne Warwick's "A House Is Not A Home". This gorgeous seven minute opus is the soundtrack to Marcia's chapter on forgiveness and saying sorry. I love the original track and Marcia's version is suitably bittersweet. A treat.
Conclusion - I Am
Don't faint but Marcia has actually included an original song to end the album - one that she even wrote herself! "I Am" is more of poem or prayer set to music but it's gospel tone sits well with the other tracks and brings the album to an inspiring conclusion. Marcia really needs to record more original material if this is any indication of what she is capable of as a songwriter. Outstanding!
It would be easy to put on my "bitchy queen" hat and tear "Life" to shreds. I'm sure that would make for an amusing post but it would also be a cop out. Marcia wears her heart on her sleeve and communicates with such overwhelming sincerity that I can't help but be moved - often against my better judgement. "Life" is the musical equivalent of a Hallmark card. It's unbelievably corny, has nothing new to say and more often than not makes you cringe with embarrassment but at the same time there is a kernel of truth to the message and you're glad that somebody took the time to send it to you. It goes without saying that cynics need not apply. If, like me, you cry at long distance telephone commercials and get slightly hysterical at weddings and other major celebrations, then Marcia's homespun wisdom comes highly recommended! You can order a signed copy of "Life" from JB Hi-Fi. I strongly advise against downloading "Life", you really need the booklet to appreciate Marcia's spiritual message!