CHER: I PARALYZE (1982)
1) Rudy; 2) Games; 3) I Paralyze; 4) When The Love Is Gone; 5) Say What's On Your Mind; 6) Back On The Street Again; 7) Walk With Me; 8) The Book Of Love; 9) Do I Ever Cross Your Mind.
The only musical change that goes hand in hand with Cher dropping the «I'm just a singer in a rock'n'roll band» slogan is that there is a slight shift of melodic content from guitar to keyboards, but other than that, I Paralyze is pretty much a natural sequel to Black Rose — the lady is trying to adapt to new musical realities without selling out completely to the dance-pop scene. Once again, she has a new record label (Columbia) and a new producer — John Farrar, known for his work with Olivia Newton-John; and, maybe even more importantly, a recognizable songwriter partner amidst a sea of the usual unknown faces — Desmond Child, already established as a respectable money-maker due to ʽI Was Made For Lovin' Youʼ, but still way ahead of his glory years as a systematic cash generator for Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, and Alice Cooper (not to mention Cher herself, whom he would only take to financial heaven in her glam-rock phase).
This album was overlooked upon release and continues to be largely overlooked now, but in all honesty, it is a lot of fun, and it improves upon the formula of Black Rose by not trying so desperately to «rock out» in an environment crawling with members of Toto — and it goes without saying that it is much, much better than anything released by the woman in her big hair glam rock glory days to come. Short, tightly performed, relatively tastefully produced, it follows the ideology of a balanced mix between modernity and retro-ism, and most of the songs are surprisingly catchy, even if they never truly showcase Cher as an artistic individuality (but what does?).
Thus, ʽRudyʼ opens with a pompous piano riff that is highly reminiscent of ABBA and «Europop» in general — not surprising, since it is actually a cover (with a very inane new set of English lyrics) of Dalida's ʽQuand Je N'Aime Plus, Je M'En Vaisʼ from the previous year, but done in a rockier fashion, with a larger guitar presence and with Cher putting a little less gloss on her vocal performance than the French pop star. In contrast, ʽSay What's On Your Mindʼ sounds like an updated take on the classic Motown sound, with one of those upbeat, rhythmic, but tender choruses that used to build up positive vibes in a matter of seconds. And still in contrast, the title track, coming from Farrar's team, is thoroughly New Wave in mood, with cold synthesizers and electronically treated vocals a-plenty, but then it also throws everything else in the mix — soulful vocal harmonies, R&B-ish brass backing, jangly guitars, sound panning, whatever. Clearly the most experimental track here, it failed as a single, probably because the public did not expect this kind of sound from a woman who, only three years ago, was largely busy catching the public eye wearing nothing but gold bikinis or steel chains.
Child's contributions are also surprisingly decent: ʽThe Book Of Loveʼ is a funny attempt to make a New Wave rocker out of a traditional folk ballad melody (Cher even gets to retain a "hey-ho" in the lyrics), and ʽWalk With Meʼ, like ʽRudyʼ, is a good case of a «mammoth pop» arrangement in the Phil Spector tradition, but putting the main piano riff well above everything else in the mix so you don't get to miss the main hook. ʽWhen The Love Is Goneʼ, however, is the first taste of sad things to come — a prototypical slow power ballad with more emphasis on power than melody, though, fortunately, still relatively unspoiled by the worst excesses of Eighties' production. On the other hand, I actually prefer this cover of The Babys' ʽBack On My Feet Againʼ (here retitled as ʽBack On The Street Againʼ) to the original — she sings it with more verve and recklessness than The Babys (who were little more than a Journey clone anyway), and the synth player at least tries to use his instrument creatively, weaving a complex pseudo-baroque-like pattern throughout the song and strengthening its melodic base.
On the whole, this just looks like a fairly solid B-level New Wave pop album to me, not too risky and not too embarassing — a fairly good direction to follow for a few years, but it also seems that this sound as such was quickly moving out of style in 1982, with mainstream values turning to more and more synthesizers and more and more boom-'n'-echo on the production, and this, perhaps, would also go some way in explaining why the record flopped so badly; in retrospect, I do give it a firm thumbs up as Cher's finest offering of the decade. Not that it had much competition — Black Rose was the only thing that preceded it, and following the album's flop, Cher took a five-year break from her musical career, concentrating on acting, only to reemerge five years later as... well, you know, as the Cher that is remembered and treasured / abhorred by the MTV generation these days.