Album Review: Bonnie Tyler – Rocks and Honey
Regardless of whether she is successful in transforming the United Kingdom’s fortunes at the Eurovision Song Contest on 18 May, 2013 is still going to be a hugely significant year for British rock legend Bonnie Tyler, who is most well-known for her iconic 80s hits ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and ‘Holding Out for a Hero’. Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and produced by David Huff, the album was actually completed before Tyler was selected as the UK’s representative for this year’s Eurovision. This has certainly been fortuitous for Tyler, bringing the singer the sort of media interest unseen since the late 1980s.
Rocks and Honey will certainly disappoint anyone expecting big 80s Jim Steinman-inspired ‘epic’ offerings – thankfully. (They had their place, but arguably not in 2013.) Instead, it embraces a rock-country feel consistent both with the artist’s direction since 2000 and her original roots in the late 1970s. The album certainly opens with a bang – ‘This Is Gonna Hurt’ is a good old fashioned slice of rock, belted out in confident manner by a woman who leaves us in no doubt that she’s not to be scorned, assuring her jilting lover that rejection ‘Is gonna hurt you more / Than it’s gonna hurt me’. We don’t doubt it.
From a heavy rock-based intro, we are then launched into something far more anthemic with ‘Sunshine’. Lighter, almost summery in its feel, it tells the tale of a woman discovering happiness in her ‘sunshine’. Although the story is predominantly one of pain – ‘I’ve been caught in the rain one too many times / I’ve been lost with the pain that I had to hide – she is determined to live her life in the sunshine, giving the track a positive feel of moving forward. Lighter in tone than the album’s opener, with a pretty infectious ear-worm of a chorus, it defies you not to hum along. This track evokes images of summer days and a bottle of beer.
Next up is ‘Believe In Me’ which, unless you’ve been living in a bubble for the past few months, you’ve likely heard on either Graham Norton, or This Morning, or somewhere else. In which case, you already know about its gentle build up, catchy chorus and bridge, and soaring strings. Despite something of a split regarding the merits of the track in the So So Gay office, one thing which cannot be denied is that the album version does the song far more justice than its Eurovision friendly edit. The second verse, oddly short before, is unabridged here and the choruses pan out far more leisurely. With a bridge featuring lyrics such as ‘What you gonna do when your ship is sinking’ or ‘When you’re reaching for something and there’s nothing?’ how can it be anything other than glorious?
From that point onwards, everything goes ‘country’ in a pretty delightful manner. ‘What You Need from Me’ is a pretty duet with Vince Gill accompanied by soft beats and acoustic guitar. Again, we’re on the theme of the doomed relationship, with lyrics such as ‘I’ll never be what you need from me / I’ve tried and failed / I’ve prayed like hell to change but I can’t change / I’ll let you down / Cos I’m still the same / And I can’t be what you need from me’. Despite the subject matter, the soft instrumentation and gentle vocal delivery still make it pleasant to listen to. The artists’ voices work together well, evoking a wistful feel reminiscent of an early Dolly Parton track. On the subject of country influences, fifth track ‘Crying’ feels like something taken straight from Shania Twain’s ‘Woman In Me’, and this is meant in a completely positive sense. Again, it’s a song exploring a dysfunctional relationship, but it is here that the trademark Bonnie Tyler vocals really come into their own as her husky tones almost do cry when she bemoans ‘What do I still love you / Where do I go from here?’ The emotional intensity is utterly believable.
But then, just as the casual listener could be wondering at the heavy country influence, the mood is mixed up again. ‘Little Superstar’ recaptures the anthemic feel of ‘Sunshine’, with a piano intro that sounds almost like the start of a hit single from The Script. And if you’re after drama, you can get no better than ‘I ran as fast as I could run / Threw off my stilettos / Tried to get away’ as an opening gambit. From that point onwards the tempo is definitely rocked up with ‘Flat On the Floor’ which, with guitar riffs and gravelly attitude aplenty, feels like more conventional Bonnie Tyler fare. One lyric aptly sums this up – ‘I’m hiding from the storm ’til the damage is done!’ We really don’t doubt it.
That brings us to ‘standout’ ballad ‘All I Ever Wanted’. If you’re in need of a power ballad, then here it is: from ‘All I know is your love has touched my heart / And filled every empty space inside’, through to the chorus ‘If I never see all my dreams come true / The one that mattered the most was you / You’re all I ever wanted / All I ever needed / You’ve given me something to hold on to, and believe in / As as long as you’re in my arms every night for the rest of my life / I won’t need nothing’ this is truly stunning experience. Not only is it a beautifully written track, it’s also a perfect pop song and actually leaves you wondering if this could be just as good (dare we say better) a Eurovision entry as ‘Believe In Me’?
After the dizzying heights of ‘All I Ever Wanted’, it would be easy to lose momentum, but Rocks and Honey maintains your interest quite effortlessly. ‘Stubborn’ provides a pleasant, more easy-listening inspired ballad that is noteworthy for its easy melodies and the fact that it depicts Tyler ‘standing by her man’ despite the doubts of everyone else around her, which is a welcome departure from some of the relationship ‘blues’ earlier on the album.
At the risk of overusing the term, ‘anthemic’ can certainly be applied to ‘Love Is The Knife’. With its powerful beat, strong vocals and mature songwriting – ‘We had a passion unbreakable / Two hearts had never been so close / But now the scars are unmistakable’ – it has an intensity and power that only an established and ‘worldly’ artist could imbibe, certainly with a chorus that hinges on the lyric ‘Love is the knife you used to cut me’. Again, it is this sort of song that the trademark Bonnie Tyler vocals suits so well.
Indeed, the only potentially weak link in Rocks and Honey comes towards the end of the album with ‘Mom’. Perhaps this is because it’s ‘sandwiched’ between the pseudo-gospel rock offering ‘Lord Help Me’ and upbeat country track ‘You Try’, with its positive message of having the faith and the strength to follow your dreams. ‘You Try’ is clichÃ©d and somewhat cheesy, but it’s also glorious thanks to a rousing chorus that features a veritable posse of backing singers ably supporting Tyler, complete with hand-claps to the beat – we defy you not to imagine the full-scale X Factor-style gospel choir. Between two such numbers, ‘Mom’ just didn’t work for us.
Overall, Rocks and Honey really defied our expectations. Many of the songs are either ludicrously catchy or wonderfully easy to listen to, and any that don’t fit into either of those descriptions are likely to rock the socks off you. The solid vocal prowess of the artist in question is supported by strong songwriting and great musical arrangement. We might even hasten to add that we’re pretty glad that Bonnie Tyler is representing the United Kingdom at Eurovision not only for the fact that this is amazing in itself, but for the fact that this has brought to greater attention such a strong collection of rock infused country tunes. Well worth the listen.
Standout Tracks: ‘Sunshine’, ‘Believe In Me’, ‘All I Ever Wanted’, ‘Love Is The Knife’