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Village Voice - August 17, 1993

The article was typed and sent by S.C. Lee.


DOX Redux
by Barry Walters

I remember booing Cyndi Lauper before I knew who girl-friend was. Her band, Blue Angel, was opening up for peak-era Human League, and we New Romantics were not amused. Those retro clothes, her uber bridge-and-tunnel accent, the Meatloafian songs - yuck. She's so Unusual was half great (the first half), and "True Colors" was an anthem, but the rest of albums two and three validated my initial apprehension. Her arrangements were too clattery, her video presence too cartoony, her songs too corny. Like Jerry Lewis, Lauper remained a superstar in France. The rest of us were too busy following the woman to whom she was first proclaimed far superior, Madonna.


Now that Madonna's in limbo, it's only just that Lauper would rise again. Her first album in four years, Hat Full of Stars (Epic), is startlingly wonderful, the kind of comeback that compensates career gone wrong. It's not cutesy or throwaway or forced or cheesy or any of these things that have plagued Lauper's output since Blue Angel. The singing is stella, the arrangements are happening, the songwriting has autobiographical depth. This is Lauper's Like A Prayer with Erotica beats.


In the mini-club tour that barely preceded the albums's release, Lauper played truth or dare with herself, expressing her own dismay about her records' dwindling quality and admitting she listened to the wrong people, that she never had much control over her music, and that she had been lost. Lauper could talk frankly because she had so obviously found herself.


The sense of rediscovery holds together Hat Full of Stars, her most coherent and consistent work by far. Hip pop rhythms and dreamy ballads predominate, but every arrangement has its own flavor. Retaining an '80s flair for hooks, this album takes Lauper into the '90s without sounding compromised or contrived. Although she collaborates with nine songwriters over 12 cuts, Lauper comes across like she's telling her own story. For the first time, she's expressing her true colors, not some stylist's dye job.


The album's success lies in the way it bridges the gap between two sensibilities that don't come together too often anymore - DJ culture and melodic pop rock. Joining Lauper in producer's chair for three quarters of Hat Full of Stars is Sound Factory DJ Junior Vasquez, known for dubs 'n' tracks and avoidance of songs, a policy that's made underground house clubland a boring, predictable place for the last few years. Lauper's songwriting cohorts include her longstanding pals, Eric Brazilian and Rob Hyman of the Hooters, and established tunesmiths Allee Willis and Mary Chapin Carpenter, folks who wouldn't ordinarily find their songs knocked into shape by the man behind Go Bitch Go's "(Work This) Pussy."


The unlikely combinations work because they strike a balance between sonics and songs. The mix of rock and rap rhythms doesn't distract from the melody or the lyrical message, and the old-fashioned tunefulness gets an attitude infusion from the contemporary beats. For all its influences, Hat Full of Stars never sounds like anybody else's album but Lauper's. Her vocals have never been better recorded and her performance is heartfelt, not showy for its own sake. The seriousness of its subjects - incest on "Lies," domestic violence in "Broken Glass," racial intolerance in "A Part Hate," the death of a childhood friend from a botched backalley abortion on "Sally's Pigeons" - allow Lauper the chance to abandon her trademark whimsy and really sing. It's clearly the album she had to fuck up first in order to make.

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