Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cyndi Lauper - Bring Ya To The Brink

"Bring Ya To The Brink" is a breathtaking return to form. After 20 years in the pop wilderness, Cyndi Lauper has clawed her way back to relevance and top 50 chart success with one of the year's best dance albums. This isn't your standard comeback. There's no reliance on former glories or nostalgia. "Bring Ya To The Brink" takes on the current crop of pop divas at their own game and kicks the competition to the curb by succeeding where they have failed - at delivering an entertaining set of quality pop tunes. The formula couldn't be more simple. Take one much loved 80s icon, sprinkle in some of the dance world's hottest producers and wait for the gays to come a running! As much as I love it, "Bring Ya To The Brink" isn't a perfect album. It meanders at times and often suffers from a lack of cohesion. However, the flaws are easy to overlook in the face of so much shiny pop goodness. Strike this up as the comeback album of 2008.

High & Mighty - 5/10

It's a shame that "Bring Ya To The Brink" kicks off with such a stinker. Produced by Scumfrog (probably best known for his remix of Kylie's "Love At First Sight"), "High & Mighty" is a snooze inducing slice of minimal electro. The song does have a certain hypnotic quality but it seems out of place on such a fun album. I can't decide what annoys me more - the pointless lyrics or the repetitive bleeps. Coming in at just under 5 minutes, "High & Mighty" is also at least two minutes too long.

Into The Nightlife - 10/10

Don't be put off by the album's stillborn opener, things take a massive turn for the better with the sublime "Into The Nightlife". Cyndi employs a team of Swedish super producers to create a slice of dancefloor perfection. This track has everything - feelgood lyrics, an insanely catchy chorus and an electric mix of synths and crashing beats. Pop music doesn't get much better. It's hardly surprising then that "Into The Nightlife" has been selected as the album's second single. With any luck this will be absolutely huge. Make sure you check out the just finished video clip (below). Cyndi looks amazing and her army of dancing gays is extremely fabulous!

Rocking Chair - 8.5/10

I hated "Rocking Chair" the first time I heard it. I initially had it pegged as an exercise in forced weirdness but the damn thing has grown on me like crazy over the past couple of weeks. Basement Jaxx's contribution to "Bring Ya To The Brink" is the kind of overproduced, intentionally disjointed pop song that is so hot right now. It took me a while to get into it but I now love the subtle hooks and eccentric sound effects, not to mention the strange chorus and the spoken breakdown. The general craziness is also a natural fit with Cyndi's kooky side. This will probably age less gracefully than Madonna but "Rocking Chair" captures the zeitgeist of 2008 perfectly.

Echo - 7.5/10

The team responsible for "Into The Nightlife" return for their second contribution but unfortunately lightning doesn't quite strike twice. "Echo" is a fun track but the end result is slightly underwhelming in comparison to the gems that come before and after it. The verses sound eerily familiar to Fedde Le Grande's remix of "The Creeps", which should be a good thing but they don't sit particularly well with the fabulous hands in the air chorus. It's almost as if two completely different songs have been squeezed together. Still, as filler goes, this is pretty good.

Lyfe - 6.5/10

What is it with middle aged divas and the need to tarnish their recordings with an unnecessary urban interlude? Cyndi fares much better than most of her menopausal contemporaries and manages to escape with her dignity intact. In fact, "Lyfe" is surprisingly pleasant. The heavy funk suits Cyndi's voice and the lyrics are clearly autobiographical. However, the song just doesn't belong on "Bring Ya To The Brink". An interesting experiment that I hope is never repeated.

Same Ol' Story - 9/10

I've been raving about "Same Ol' Story" for months but after hearing "Bring Ya To The Brink", I'm really quite surprised it was selected as the first single. Not only are there better songs but Richard Morel's intentionally dated production gives a very misleading impression of the album's content. That said, I still love the song. Cyndi's fabulous potty mouth is given free reign and the retro soundscape (with nods to disco and 90s house music) is a lot of fun.

Raging Storm - 5/10

Back to back Richard Morel productions should be a good thing but "Raging Storm" is incredibly tedious. The song has been circled out as one of the album's highlights by many critics for dealing with the fucked up state of the world within the context of a dance song. I'm all for exploring serious issues in dance music but "Raging Storm" is a cure for insomnia. For an example of how to combine politics and dancefloor fabulousness, check out Shakira's brilliant "Timor". Cyndi's five and a half minute sermon falls flat in comparison.

Lay Me Down - 10/10

Kleerup is such a one trick pony. Thankfully, it's a hell of a good trick! "Lay Me Down" basically rehashes Kleerup's tried and tested electroballad formula. All his usual quirks are present and accounted for. The delicate beats are crisply layered and drenched in melancholy. I think he may have even recycled the backing track! Regardless of Kleerup's laziness, "Lay Me Down" still manages to be utterly divine thanks to the haunting lyrics and Cyndi's beautiful voice, which imbues the song with more grace than it really deserves.

Give It Up - 8/10

Producing a song for Cyndi Lauper is something of a step up in the world for Jack Rokka (AKA Digital Dog), who spends most of his time remixing Dannii's sublime chart flops. Not surprisingly, "Give It Up" is probably the trashiest floorfiller on "Bring Ya To The Brink" and I mean that as a compliment. This cheap and cheerful dance anthem wouldn't sound out of place on an AATW compilation with its meaningless lyrics, cheesy production and plodding beats. I like it!

Set Your Heart - 9.5/10

I can't quite decide whether "Set Your Heart" samples Candi Staton's fabulous "Young Hearts Run Free" or simply pays homage to it. Either way, this is the album's most obvious nod to 70s disco with its delicious spoken intro and funky horns. Currently doing big business for Cyndi in Japan, "Set Your Heart" will have you running to the nearest mirror ball by the second verse. I love everything about this from the sweeping chorus to Cyndi's crazy pronunciation. While probably too camp to be released as a single outside of Asia, "Set Your Heart" will no doubt find favour in gay clubs around the globe.

Grab A Hold - 10/10

After merrily exploring dance sub-genres for the majority of "Bring Ya To The Brink", Cyndi returns to her roots for the album's final two songs with breathtaking results. If you removed Dragonette's lovely electropop trappings, "Grab A Hold" wouldn't sound out of place on "She's So Unusual" or "True Colours". The lyrics express a very familiar sense of longing, Cyndi's quirky phrasing is on full display and the chorus is instantly addictive. Kudos to Dragonette for breathing new life into such an iconic sound.

Rain On Me - 10/10

"Rain On Me" is my favourite track on "Bring Ya To The Brink". Electropop has rarely sounded so delicate and elegant. Basically everything I said about "Grab A Hold" applies equally to this. Underneath the layers of pretty beats and bleeps lies a nugget of gold that recalls some of Cyndi's best work from the 80s. I love the sparse production and world weary lyrics but the thing that makes "Rain On Me" so special is the sense of whimsy that, dare I say it, only comes with age. Simply exquisite.

Bonus Tracks

Got Candy - 8/10
Can't Breathe - 9/10

Poor Cyndi seems to be suffering from a bad case of Kylie-itis because both her bonus tracks are better than several songs that actually made the album. "Got Candy" is another cheerful disco flashback courtesy of Richard Morel, while the achingly lovely "Can't Breathe" is the album's only traditional ballad. "Got Candy" is an iTunes bonus track in Australia. Unfortunately, "Can't Breathe" only appears on international editions of "Bring Ya To The Brink". Both are well worth tracking down.


Johnny D said...

Spot on review. Into the Nightlife is Cyndi's best single since the 80's and I truly hope it cracks the Australian top 20.

Its a cracking album (except for Lyfe) and I can't stop playing it. After the disappointment of Hard Candy, X and Crayons, this one lives up to the hype.

Its sent me into an all-out Cyndi frenzy and the neightbours are HATING it!!!!

Ro Ro said...

I agree mostly with this review. Except i give Echo a 9.5 since i have been relentlessly listening to it. I totally agree about high and mighty tho it was an awful opening track. Lyfe is my least favourite song on here it could have gone without it.

amoss12000 said...

I was thinking about giving this one a listen, Your review was the tipping point.

Expect a review on my blog soon.

amoss12000 said...

Sorry about the double comment but I can't help but think that this is exactly what Hard Candy should have been. It would have revolutionised the music industry if somebody like Madonna released this album.

BTW, Loving Into The Nightlife & Not Hating High & Mighty.

Dennis said...

Love Cyndi and her new album. Can't stop playing this CD!

undisco_me said...

I won't say too much cos I've written about this album so much recently on other forums, but Lyfe isn't really "experimental" for Cyndi: it would slot perfectly into any album from Hat Full of Stars onwards.

A real treat to read, as always!

I haven't heard the 2 bonus tracks though - is anyone willing to send?


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of this review! Raging Storm would be an excellent song if it were a minute or two shorter. And less similar-sounding to the generic Higher Plane from her Shine album. Can't get into Lay Me Down, though, no matter how many people praise it. It's like H&M... starts off good, ends up falling on its face.

Lyfe is so Hat Full of Stars married to Sisters of Avalon, in the best possible way!

Anyway, nice to see a review (and some replies) from someone who knows that Cyndi's career didn't end with the 80s. ;) said...

Oh how I adore rain on me and into the nightlife. FABULOUS form Cyndi!

Jamie_movietrip said...

The whole thing just makes me gush, Set Your Heart, Grab A Hold and Into The Nightlife rock my world, and I love the artwork. Go Cyndi!

Mike said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you all love the album as much as I do. I just hope "Into The Nightlife" catches on so we get more videos and remixes!

Moogaboo said...

Set Your Heart doesn't sample Young Hearts, although that's what I thought, too -- it's actually a Harlod Melvin & the Blue Notes song called "Where Are All My Friends." Lovely stuff.

Great review!