Worcester Datebook - 1993
Eric Hanlon sent the article.
Cyndi Lauper's new soul-searching falls flat
HAT FULL OF STARS
Cyndi Lauper (Epic)
Whatever happened to Cyndi Lauper? She used to be so unusual. Now she sounds so conventional. After a five-year hiatus from recording, Lauper has returned with her fourth release, "Hat Full of Stars."
Lauper, once a girl who just wanted to have fun and hang out with her offbeat friends like Capt. Lou Albano and Pee-Wee Herman, is now attempting to be a conscience stirring, politically correct role model for the ' 90's. When she broke out onto the scene in 1984, she came storming through her MTV videos and stomped up the music charts like the embodiment of a ditsy tornado that just leveled a second hand thrift store. Like an out-of-tune, tacky songbird, she almost instantly tweeted her way into our hearts.
On a Crusade
Now Lauper sounds like she's attempting to become a sappy pop dance diva with the burden of the world on her shoulders. Quite often, she sounds like a two-bit version of Madonna on a preachy and pretentious crusade. She sings too matter-of-factly about such topics as wife abuse, incest and world hunger to make us believe that these are legitimate concerns for her. Maybe this change is payback for the Material Girl's annoying Lauper impersonation she gave in the dreadfully awful film, "Who's That Girl." Whatever the case might be, it is the listener and the devoted fans who pay for this misguided and queasy comeback effort.
The lead-off track, "That's What I Think," shows Lauper trying to make up for lost time by changing her style and imitating what's hot on the charts. With a heavy-on-the-bass, hip-hop beat, Lauper unconvincingly sings a combination of gooey love poetry, which sounds like rejected Hallmark verse, and out-of-place social commentary on starving babies on the city streets. Before this, thankfully, the only social commentary she offered was tracks like "Money Changes Everything" (about the dangers of materialism) and "She Bop" (about the widespread popularity of masturbation). At least in those cases, she didn't take herself too seriously and was able to capture us with her whimsical charm and the song's infectious groove.
Restraint and Tenderness
Her best songs on "Hat Full of Stars" are those that focus on a personal loss without being muddled by a social conscience. Lauper waves out the first of a series of hankie songs and one of the album's most effective, "Who Let in the Rain." Here, she offers something that actually resembles talent, a refreshing change from her signature squeaking. She shows restraint and tenderness on this tale about a romance that didn't quite work out even though the love was strong for both parties involved. This moving number about a broken romance and the dependence lovers feel for each another falls somewhere in between her earlier heartaching hits, "Time After Time" and "True Colors."
Lauper sounds lost in a hip-hop universe full of bad lyrics and pretentious posturings on two tracks dealing with serious issues, "Lies" and "Broken Glass." On "Lies," Lauper delivers piercing highs and throwaway fluff while indirectly singing about the evils of incest. The song sounds like she's redoing Paula Abdul's "Cold Hearted Snake" combined with the dialogue from a scandalous television melodrama. She also comes up with a danceable song about wife abuse called "Broken Glass." "Broken Glass," referring to victims' faces after domestic violence, sounds like a broken record that goes nowhere and takes a long time to get there.
One of the album's most stirring numbers, "Sally's Pigeons," is a solemn piano ballad that Lauper co-wrote with Mary-Chapin Carpenter. The song opens with Lauper's lone, sparse vocals, aching from the loss of a childhood friend from complications of an illegal abortion.
Some songs on "Hat Full of Stars" are types that made the public fall in love with her in the first place. The catchy, pop-rocker "Product of Misery" is an uninhibited, whimsical outing that showcases Lauper's whiny, snarling voice and freewheelin' philosophy at her best. The playful, rambunctious romp, "Feels Like Christmas," captures the giddiness that comes with true romance with a folky twist. On "Dear John," with twangy guitar chords behind her and her spunky vocals in the forefront, Lauper gives a verbal letter of advice on the importance of pursuing one's dreams and the overwhelming strength of the human spirit. Songs like these come off truer than many of the album's contrived soul-searchers.