CHER: I'D RATHER BELIEVE IN YOU (1976)
1) Long Distance Love Affair; 2) I'd Rather Believe In You; 3) I Know (You Don't Love Me No More); 4) Silver Wings And Golden Rings; 5) Flashback; 6) It's A Cryin' Shame; 7) Early Morning Strangers; 8) Knock On Wood; 9) Spring; 10) Borrowed Time.
So, with the commercial failure of Stars, Cher was once again put in the hands of calculating craftsmen rather than people with a nobler understanding of music — for her second Warner Bros. album, the producers were Steve Barri (who'd previously worked with various bubblegum acts, mostly) and Michael Omartian (a session keyboardist and Christian disco-rock artist with album titles like Adam Again!); their main joint claim to fame up to that date was collaboration within the band Rhythm Heritage, remembered mostly for the ʽTheme From S.W.A.T.ʼ (of course, «remembered» is probably a rather strong word here).
The logical expectation here would be an all-out disco album, but apparently the time was not quite ripe yet — this was, after all, still a pre-Saturday Night Fever kind of world, and so there is really only one song that borders on disco, without yet embracing all of its stereotypes: ʽLong Distance Love Affairʼ, a surprisingly catchy and turbulent pop-rocker that aspires to conveying some genuine emotional turbulence — with a grappling instrumental string break and a pretty damn good performance from Cher himself: songs about adultery, even long-distance one, have always seemed right up her alley anyway. (Basically, she always sounds more convincing when she sings about cheating rather than when she sings about being cheated, even if in real life it was usually the other way around).
Most of the other dance-pop numbers on the record, curiously enough, are oldies: decent, but unspectacular covers of ʽI Know (You Don't Love Me No More)ʼ and ʽKnock On Woodʼ, as well as a take on the poorly remembered Gayle McCormick hit ʽIt's A Cryin' Shameʼ. She gives all of these a pleasant, listenable Cher coating, and the arrangements, replete with funky guitars, loud brass, and agile rhythm sections, all reflect good mid-Seventies craft. But the only other song that manages to stand out a little is ʽFlashbackʼ, a new composition by Artie Wayne that combines elements of pop balladry and funk with creative arranging touches (harpsichords? ghostly electric guitar sighs in the background? bring 'em on!) and a great chorus hook — Cher's "...and I flashback!.." with a meaningful pause after the two big beats is arguably the most attention-drawing moment of the album, and, on the whole, ʽFlashbackʼ is closer to «art-pop» than anything else on here, a classy song that could have gone down in history as a major highlight of the 1970s had it been done by any other artist.
Everything else, including the title track, is in the balladry camp, and not very interesting: ten years later, this stuff would have been presented in the shape of pop-metallic power ballads and sound disgusting — here, it just sounds okay, with strings, pianos, horns, and gospel background vocals creating a decent generic ambience. ʽBorrowed Timeʼ, concluding the album, seems catchier to me than the rest, but that's not saying much. They do not irritate, and that's the best I can say about all of them. Overall, I am surprised at how okayish the record is as a whole, and ʽLong Distance Love Affairʼ with ʽFlashbackʼ probably belong on any reasonable Cher anthology, even though, frankly speaking, they don't have that much to do with Cher as an artist... but then again, what does? Other than that, I'd rather believe in somebody else.