Any music that can potentially get Cher back in her bejeweled Bob Mackie drag is a good thing. When America’s 53-year-old eternal teenager has an excuse to parade a swanky outfit (the Studio 54/”Take Me Home” era, her early ’70s dark lady period, and of course Sonny’s groovy ’60s anthems), she’s in top form. When the clothes are wrong, look out. If you remember the ’80s hair-metal power ballads that came out of her tattooed-butt phase, you know what I mean.
What’s left for Cher to wear? Hip-hop? Too funky. Alt-rock? Too frumpy. Electronica? Forget it. The only logical choice for this legendary living clothes hanger is to embrace raging hi-NRG Euro.
Like disco before it, the galloping synthetic urgency of Euro allows women of a certain age to dress up as they play to at least three audiences— girlies young enough to be their daughters, female peers, and gay men of every vintage. Our beloved female vets can belt an old-school schmaltzcore codependency-for-days ballad and get away with it because the club-targeted bottom booms, the lushly aggressive arrangement soars, and the instrumentation flaunts a computerized nowness few studio hacks could achieve with conventional sonic airbrushing. Euro’s every bit as over-the-top as Cher herself.
Euro’s aural nip and tuck on Cher’s new single generates one of the wackiest hooks to grace the airwaves since ’97’s “Your Woman”/”How Bizarre” art-cheese double whammy. “It’s so sa-A-ad that you’re leavin’/It takes ti-I-ime to believe it,” she moans, while microchips manipulate her patented warble into an electronic hiccup. And that’s just the verse. “Believe” is so fucking lip-synch-inducing and ingratiatingly catchy that I defy anyone to hear it and not feel like a total drag queen. Even without the bounding BPMs and dancefloor drum machines, “Believe” would give “I Will Survive” some major karaoke competition. In the grand gender-illusionist and Europop traditions, pumped-up artificiality takes the beyond-romantic uncertainty of the lyric and paradoxically makes it tough, honest.
Although the credits are nearly evenly split between American and English remixer-producers, the all-dance concept behind Believe the album is the brainchild of Warner Bros. U.K. honcho Rob Dickins. “He constantly inspired me (against my will) to stretch myself,” admits Cher in the credits, thanking the man who hooked girlfriend up with dance Svengalis at the album’s inception, rather than having her poop out some wack doo-doo that deejays would have to fix later. Cher’s last album, ’96’s It’s a Man’s World, was uncharacteristically tasteful, but it was Junior Vasquez’s yummy pop-house remix of “One by One” that garnered the most attention. Yet at a time when nearly every American Top 40 station has turned its back on uptempo dance music, it’s a major commercial risk to release an album flaunting perky Euro fun from dusk to dawn.
With 1.7-million-and-counting copies sold in England making “Believe” that country’s best-selling single of last year and the biggest by a female artist ever, it’s also a risk that’s working: Believe is currently the number-one-selling CD in my homocentric neighborhood Tower, and likely to stay that way. Almost every track could be a single.
The ever-more-unpopular Vasquez, who hasn’t turned in a worthy remix since “One by One,” oversees “The Power,” a rock-tinged ditty that cries out for a screaming aerobic overhaul. With the rest of the album molded by U.K. hi-NRG duo Metro and the indefatigable Todd Terry, the successive singles merely need to be extended, not rescued. “Runaway” recalls the Real McCoy hit its title recycles— no adorably corny Germanic rapper, but same ooga-chuga tempo, same scared-of-you lyrical idea. “Takin’ Back My Heart” suggests the Quincy Jones-produced jazz-disco mellowness of early ’80s George Benson as it proves that not everything that Diane Warren pens must suck. “Dov’é L’Amore” brings the flamenco exotica of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita,” which is probably why Mighty Mo has already volunteered to direct the video.
More serious and spiritual than the Metro tracks, Todd Terry’s contributions are his most tuneful combo of snappy snares and bumping bass since his career-defining remix of Everything But the Girl’s “Missing.” Those familiar staccato chord changes drive the verses of “Taxi Taxi” until a haunted harmonic shift and spookily sequenced double-time bass send the refrain spiraling into disco heaven. Already a circuit-party classic in its first rendition by obscure Euro songbird Betsy Cook, “Love Is the Groove” maintains the early-morning melancholy with gently lapping waves of ricocheting marimba, shimmering acoustic and electric guitars, femme background cooing, and ambient synth noodles. The final punch line comes with a typically Terry-esque rehash of Cher’s 10-year-old Bic-flick standby, “We All Sleep Alone,” which celebrates the original’s emotional excess with the same shout-along “woah-hos” that have graced Euro gems from Laura Branigan to Baltimora.
Through it all, Cher sits tall in the rhinestone saddle, riding the rhythms as confidently as she did in the days of nightly Studio partying with Halston, Gucci, and Fiorrucci. Although the sophistication of It’s a Man’s World allowed the bellowing and perpetually reconstructed beauty a rare opportunity to flex some subtlety, the blissed-out Believe grants Cher a security her previous CD’s James Brown, Patty Larkin, and Prefab Sprout ballads couldn’t provide. Cher can still get busy with bombast without risking overkill because Euro forgives everything. This demented glamour genius could be recording her vocals live on the plastic surgeon’s table and still sound fierce— with music this confident and consistent, Cher may never need to make another hair product infomercial again.