CHER: WITH LOVE, CHER (1967)
1) You Better Sit Down Kids; 2) But I Can't Love You More; 3) Hey Joe; 4) Mama (When My Dollies Have Children); 5) Behind The Door; 6) Sing For Your Supper; 7) Look At Me; 8) There But For Fortune; 9) I Will Wait For You; 10) The Times They Are A-Changin'.
I think this must have been the time when Sonny and Cher began dressing in ridiculous furs to boost their hip credibility, but also releasing anti-drug statements to bring it back down. Anyway, With Love, Cher is an important landmark — not only is its first side arguably the finest Cher side released up to that date, but it's almost as if Sonny finally found a style for her. With the exception of ʽHey Joeʼ (which is ridiculous, but isn't that bad, by the way — decent combo of bluesy lead guitar with orchestration), the first four songs, three of them written by Sonny and one by master songwriter Graham Goldman, are interesting cases of not-too-banal art-pop, with sentimental stories told in the form of mini-suites, with actual musical development, unpredictable mood shifts and... well, intelligence.
The Goldman song, ʽBehind The Doorʼ, is the most ambitious of these, and they dared release it as the first single, though it did not chart — too weird for Cher, people must have thought: a slow, melancholic, draggy lament, with mandolins a-plenty and the lead singer, apparently, wailing about all the evil things that go on behind locked doors, culminating in lines like "the people are awaiting... and still they go on mating!" Then, suddenly, it breaks into a quasi-Morriconesque Western theme for a dramatic moment, before reverting back to the original formula. If we did not know it was Cher, who really does not discriminate all that well between any kinds of material she is offered, we'd call the tune «emotionally resonant», but as it is, we'd rather exercise caution and just call it «weird», which is, after all, precisely what you'd expect from a soon-to-be 10cc member.
Sonny's songs are certainly less weird, but they're still good. The dramatic waltz ʽMama (When My Dollies Have Babies)ʼ is another of his attempts at monumentally pompous «Euro-art songs», but the multi-layered orchestral arrangements are nothing to laugh at, and even if one thinks that the song contains little of Cher's own soul, it is hard not to feel at least a bit of Sonny's, not to mention some pretty serious composing work. ʽBut I Can't Love You Moreʼ, for all of its Vegasy nature, is still catchy, and the brass / string / guitar arrangement is nothing less than excellent. The song that actually charted was the lightest of them all, ʽYou Better Sit Down Kidsʼ, and once you get used to the odd perspective of Cher singing this breakup tune from the father's point of view (then again, Wikipedia doesn't exactly have a «Cher as a gay icon» page for nothing), it's another cool tune, a bit of «progressive music-hall» with an odd funky-folksy mid-section. No, it hardly conveys all the pains and traumas of divorce, but it's a curious musical experiment.
Bad things wake up and go bump in the night on Side B, by which time Goldman is no longer there, Sonny is getting tired, and Cher resorts to covering ʽSing For Your Supperʼ (nice try, but with Mama Cass in town, this is like John Lennon trying to battle Muhammad Ali), The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (no, no, please no!), Phil Ochs (Freedom Fighter Cher on the horizon), and ʽThe Times They Are A-Changin'ʼ, even though the times have already changed, and there was hardly any need to keep rubbing that in our noses. All of this stuff is completely expendable and forgettable, and basically reduces the value of the album to that of a small EP. Still, a breakthrough is a breakthrough, and the record does establish a certain «Cher formula» that would last well into the early 1970s, and arguably represents the only things of some artistic worth that she (with a lot of help from her husband) brought into this world, so thumbs up.