Album Review: Cher – Closer to the Truth
‘Torn up, busted, taken apart / I’ve been broken down, left with a broken heart / But I’m stronger, strong enough to rise above / This is a Woman’s World / This is a Woman’s World / TELL THE TRUTH.’
When Cher’s voice soars into the chorus of ‘Woman’s World’, her first chart single in a decade, it does so with the almighty power of the Blue Whale’s tail fin cascading down onto a tranquil ocean surface. It is a defiant, tough, confident comeback for an artist whose age-defying longevity and scythe-defying career have given her a seeming omnipresence on the pop landscape since the dawning of the age of Aquarius.
Closer To The Truth is Cher’s first studio album since 2001’s Living Proof, and rounds out a trilogy of dance-centric LPs which began with 1998’s pop behemoth, Believe. Still the UK’s 16th biggest selling single of all time (and the biggest by a female solo artist), it’s easy to forget what a monolithic megahit ‘Believe’ was in 1998, and easy to underestimate the effect it had on the pop scene. By placing a vocoder twang on Cher’s eminently recognisable contralto, it instantly and entirely refreshed her sound and rejuvenated her standing amongst the nouveau-riche melisma-mangling divas on the 90s pop charts.
In the wake of ‘Believe’, this souped-up autotune, which created the warbled vocoder effect, became broadly implemented across mainstream pop music, and was extensively utilised on her follow-up album, Living Proof. By 2001, Cher’s sound had become entirely synthesised and her voice entirely digitally manipulated, occasionally resulting in sounding as though she was singing through the cacophonous clattering of an old fashioned dial-up modem. The challenge facing any follow up to Living Proof, was always going to be whether a balance could be found between Cher’s timeless, stoic vocals and her seeming determination to remain modern, and not shuffle into the great pop retirement home of comfy jazz standards and sporadic Christmas albums.
‘Woman’s World’ was a very encouraging start. Having leaked well over a year ago, fans had a tantalisingly tantric wait before its official release in the latter half of 2013. A sledgehammer ode to female empowerment, Cher’s voice is as bombastic and imposing as ever over Paul Oakenfold and JD Walker’s synthesised, slugging beat. It sets the tone effectively for an album of two halves: the first, ensconced firmly in the club, is a front-loaded party wagon. With beats that grab you firmly by the balls, instilling in you the euphoric haze of dancing shirtless on a podium at 3am, doused in sweat, high on life, and drowning in JÃ¤germeister. It belies the introspective, gentle sounding album title – Closer To The Truth (taken from a lyric in ‘I Walk Alone’, one of two songs here written by P!nk) – and as Cher herself admitted during the promo junket, ‘Dressed To Kill’ would be a more apt title. Which indeed it would. The bristling confidence of the first half-dozen tracks on the album is the perfect soundtrack for drag queens the world over as they fire up the smoke machines, put on their heels, and strut henceforth to the nearest Kiki.
The vocoder is still very much in play, never moreso than on ‘Take It Like a Man’, a collaboration with Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. It’s so preposterously Hi-NRG with Eurodance beats that it’s like going ten rounds with Mike Tyson whilst high on poppers. While the autotune here submerges Cher’s vocals again, the difference, which is reassuringly evident across the dance portion of the album, is that the lineup of producers – Oakenfold, Mark Taylor, Kuk Harrell, Billy Mann, MachoPsycho, amongst others – are more than adept at utilising the effect to embrace and enhance rather than overwhelm her. [tweetable alt=”‘Her soaring voice dominates the frenetic beats, creating anthemic dance tracks’ @ChiefBrody1984 on @Cher’s new album”]Cher’s soaring, bulldozer voice totally dominates the frenetic beats, creating a series of anthemic dance tracks[/tweetable] (‘My Love’, ‘Red’) which reverberate through the brain like an Ibizan hangover.
‘Dressed to Kill’, originally written and recorded by Ordinary Boys alumni Preston in 2009, is the album standout. When transferred to the female perspective, it becomes a devastatingly self-assured romp of optimum fierceness: ‘I’m on the loose, you’re in my sight / I’m dancing in the dark with my hands around your heart … How can you resist when, baby, I am dressed to kill’. A supernova of sexuality for six decades, [tweetable alt=”‘.@Cher isn’t prepared to hang up her dancing shoes because of the onset of septuagenarianism': says @ChiefBrody1984.”]Cher clearly isn’t prepared to hang up her dancing shoes because of the onset of septuagenarianism[/tweetable], and here she is at her most puissant and predatory.
‘Sirens’ breaks the beat entirely and washes over you like a saccharine tsunami. A huge, broad ballad, an ode to the events of 9/11 – ‘From the sound of sirens, the city will rise … From the sound of sirens, love will survive’. It is a delicate song and a welcome reprieve following such a plethora of hardened dance tracks, and it harks back to Cher’s early 90s days as a rock power-balladeer. The remaining tracks continue in this vein. The vocoder is dispensed with and the second phase to the album rounds out proceedings with a succession of powerful and emotive ballads, flexing the oft-overlooked soulful register of Cher’s husky contralto (‘I Hope You Find It’, ‘Lie To Me’).
Closer To The Truth is anything but a meek return to the spotlight for one of pop’s most enduring and resilient emissaries. [tweetable alt=”‘Closer to the Truth by @Cher is a defiant warning shot to the poptarts of today’, reckons @ChiefBrody1984″]It’s a defiant warning shot to the poptarts of today[/tweetable], a commanding dictum to respect one’s elders, and a fantastically strong renaissance album. She may have been around since the dawn of time, but she’s still got a voice that can crush walnuts and is clearly not afraid to use it.
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Standout Tracks: ‘Dressed To Kill’ / ‘Red’ / ‘Sirens’
Closer to the Truth gets its UK release on October 14 and is available to pre-order from iTunes now.
[author image=”http://cdn.sosogay.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Ed-Brody.jpg” ]ED BRODY – Born in the wagon of a travellin’ show. Frequently incomprehensible hair. Compulsive overuser of adjectives. Pathological devotion to Cher. Lover of key-changes. Blue eyes. Single. @chiefbrody1984[/author]