Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eighties pop icons Cyndi Lauper, Boy George have new releases

Back in 1984, Cyndi Lauper and Boy George (with Culture Club) ruled the pop chart roost. 

After several years of struggling to ignite a music career in New York City, Lauper teamed up with producer Rick Chertoff, plus musicians Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman of The Hooters. Her debut solo LP She's So Unusual came out in October of '83.

Leadoff single "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," a giddy pop song about female empowerment, made a slow climb to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 the following March. Three more top five singles and a top 30 one charted throughout that year, helped propel the album into the top five and eventually sell more than six million copies in America alone.

Lauper became the first female artist to have four top 10 singles on a debut album and won the Grammy for Best New Artist.

To commemorate the 30th Anniversary of She's So Unusual, a fine new expanded deluxe edition arrived in stores this week via Legacy/Epic Records. On tour last year, she performed the album front to back.

The double CD deluxe edition includes the original remastered album, rare demos, live concert recordings and remixes. Jancee Dunn, who collaborated with Lauper on her successful 2012 autobiography, handled the liner notes. She provides several insights for those who didn't read the book.

Listening to this version again, you remember just how strong many of these selections were: from "Money Changes Everything" and its swirling synth lines, melodica and booming drums and the slinky Prince-penned "When You Were Mine" to the beautiful fluttering keyboards on the Jules Shear ballad "All Through The Night," classic "Time After Time" and frantic coded sexuality of "She Bop."

Diehard fans will marvel at the rarities. There's an aggressive early guitar demo of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" with different lyrics and a darker vibe a la Television. Another demo of it is reggae with a spoken bit at the end, more closely resembling the final version. The demo of  "Money Changes Everything" has a slower tempo but most of the final music intact.

Spunky non LP B-Side "Right Train, Wrong Track" was strong enough that it should've gone on the album instead of the Betty Boop homage "He's So Unusual." A work in progress rough mix of "Time After Time" has the basic framework of the final melody with Lauper still figuring out the lyrics.

Highly recommended.

Culture Club also released its biggest selling album Colour By Numbers (certified quadruple platinum) around the same time at Lauper's Unusual and saw it spawn four top 20 U.S. hits.

Now Boy George has unveiled his first all-new studio full-length effort in more than a decade, This Is What I Do.

Some songs touch on faith (the full-bodied gospel/pop of "My God"), while others
(luxurious standout soul opener "King of Everything," with regal female backing vocals) are personal in nature. 

They were co-written by longtime collaborators John Themis and Richie Stevens (Culture Club) as well as producer/musician Youth (The Fireman, The Orb, U2) and Culture Club bandmate Mikey Craig. Stevens produced the album. 

George's intonations here have a more husky feel. The low down groove of "Bigger Than War" finds him and the ladies singing "bigger than the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis...not Yoko. 

As in Ono. Then George covers John Lennon widow's own "Death of Samantha." The stripped-down, acoustic guitar based "It's Easy," where he sings "it's easy when you're the one who stops loving first" is another highlight.  

Elsewhere, the latter half of the album concentrates on reggae (or "lover's rock") and is done with an assortment of guest MCs and even an Arabic oud player!

It's great to have George O'Dowd back in business, making intriguing music again.

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