BONNIE RAITT: NINE LIVES (1986)
1) No Way To Treat A Lady; 2) Runnin' Back To Me; 3) Who But A Fool (Thief Into Paradise); 4) Crime Of Passion; 5) All Day, All Night; 6) Stand Up To The Night; 7) Excited; 8) Freezin' (For A Little Human Love); 9) True Love Is Hard To Find; 10) Angel.
I find it a little bit funny — and a little ominous — that the title of this album would ten years later be appropriated by Aerosmith, because this here is the beginning of the «Aerosmith-ization» of Bonnie Raitt. Of course, she'd never exactly been a symbol of «artistic independence» as such, but up to 1986, there was very little evidence for branding her a «tool of the industry», either. However, in 1983, already in those early stages of the «adjust-or-perish» period, Warner Bros. showed her who really is the boss by rejecting a completed album for lacking commercial potential, and only after two years of nervous bickering, finally allowed her to put out an alternative, recutting and rearranging most of the tracks.
Nine Lives is far from the worst album I have ever heard (I mean, every time we get exposed to this kind of stuff, remember Rod Stewart in the Eighties to be brought back to senses), but it is certainly a record that could be cut by anybody — completely faceless and robotic even for the standards of Bonnie Raitt, who isn't exactly Ms. Inimitable Personality herself. It's a big band affair (once again, the number of people credited in the liner notes is skyrocketing to ridiculous heights), molded as a very generic, sterilized pop-rock record, heavy on synthesizers, electronic drums, processed guitar sounds, and corporate songwriting. Revealing moment: the first song, ʽNo Way To Treat A Ladyʼ, was written by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, and was released in the same year, 1986, by still another Bonnie — Tyler! And it is fairly hard to decide whose version is more pompous, overproduced, and deadly dull.
The entire album is full of cringeworthy moments. Synthesized horns on ʽRunnin' Back To Meʼ, with all these trumpet players in the studio? Why? Muscular-metal guitar on the steroid power ballad ʽStand Up To The Nightʼ — who the hell could see Bonnie Raitt competing for space with Heart and Cher in the Eighties? The simplistic electro-pop groove on ʽFreezin'ʼ — who the hell could see Bonnie Raitt competing for space with Prince, or associate her with «music for the body» as such? And then there's the lyrics disease — as corporate songwriting sinks to new degrees of lowness, we get lines like "my body is the only place where we meet anymore" (!!!!!). Good job, Danny Ironstone and Mary Unobsky, whoever and wherever you may be, for saddling a formerly reputable performer with ʽCrime Of Passionʼ, arguably one of the most embarrassing entries in her entire catalog.
In an ultimate bout of irony, ʽTrue Love Is Hard To Findʼ, a bland cod-reggae offering, features none other than the 88-year old Sippie Wallace herself on background vocals — Bonnie's personal idol finally got a chance to back up her disciple something like a few months prior to her demise on November 1, 1986. Shame it had to happen on this particular track, in this particular setting and epoch — about twelve or fourteen years too late for the move to have any serious meaning. For the record, her cracked vocals, in those few moments when she can actually be heard above the production din, have more personality here than everything else put together — but then they are quickly washed away by the coda, a dull piano-based blues ballad written by Bonnie's old friend Eric Kaz and sporting the title ʽAngelʼ. The following year, a power ballad called ʽAngelʼ would be released by Aerosmith for Permanent Vacation, their first album to mark the transition from living human beings into automated mannequins. Coincidence? Yes. And no, if you think of certain deeper reasons. Thumbs down.