CHER: PRISONER (1979)
1) Prisoner; 2) Holdin' Out For Love; 3) Shoppin'; 4) Boys And Girls; 5) Mirror Image; 6) Hell On Wheels; 7) Holy Smoke; 8) Outrageous.
As ridiculous as it may sound, this album is actually fun, in its own sick demented way. The album sleeve takes us even further than Take Me Home — every time Cher makes yet another speech at some feminist rally these days, please don't forget to bring her an old copy of the record for an autograph — and so does the music, which is still essentially disco, but is now thoroughly mixed with elements of hard rock and bubbly-synthy New Wave. Some critics used this mixture as food for jabbing, accusing the lady of artistic confusion, and while they may have been formally right, I think that the main point of Prisoner is not to find a new musical direction, but to state, as brashly as possible, that «I'm crazy as heck and I want everyone to know it!».
Just look at this — there's not a single ballad on the album, not anywhere in sight. There are songs about ʽShoppin'ʼ (something that she really likes to do, and she's being brutally honest about it), about being ʽOutrageousʼ ("I'm gonna wear what I will and spend some" — you bet she is, even if what she wills consists of nothing but a set of chains and Lady Godiva hair), about representing ʽHell On Wheelsʼ ("Try me on for size at the roll-a-rama!" — yeesh...), and even when she gets around to a bit of tormented introspection, it is still set to a fast tempo and a punchy beat (ʽMirror Imageʼ). It's all about a flurry of rhythms, tempos, loud grooves, screechy solos, and non-stop energy — and, unlike the disco songs on the first side of Take Me Home, these tunes do not sound as if they were made exclusively for the sake of serving as dancefloor fodder. Even if most of them were written by the same songwriting team that served on Take Me Home (Bob Esty and Michele Aller).
ʽHell On Wheelsʼ, released as the first single and glorifying the lady's love for roller-skating (not biking!), is an honestly fun rock-disco hybrid, with several key changes, Van Halen-lite soloing (I think that Toto's Steve Lukather may be responsible for these parts, but not entirely sure), and a fabulous "LOOK OUT!" echoeing across the room as trendy synth explosions imitate the rocket-like propulsion of... well, it's all about life in the fast lane, and Cher does her best to deliver. She still did not manage to propel the song any higher than No. 59 on the charts, but at least it would be higher than anything else from her in the next eight years. And this kind of effort definitely suited her personality better than the second single, ʽHoldin' Out For Loveʼ, co-written by Tom Snow and Cynthia Weil — a somewhat softer, keyboard-based, discoified R&B tune with ugly synth tones for the main riff and an overall tepid delivery.
I mean, it's hilarious all the way, but about half of this record is directly autobiographical and very convincing. ʽShoppin'ʼ might be the best anthem to shoppin' ever recorded — at least, one of the most honest ones ("ooh, they're having a sale — my God, I love sales!"), a clever disco-era update of the decadent-sarcastic cabaret vibe; ʽBoys And Girlsʼ rolls on at an almost insane tempo, way too fast for disco, an exuberant party-pop-rock number with Cher spinning tales of wild, reckless living faster than you could process them; and even when she seems to be making some ecologically conscious statement on ʽHoly Smokeʼ, it is still not entirely clear if she is more concerned about mounting pollution or about mounting gas prices (I would think that in 1979, the latter was of far more concern to the lady than the former).
So, basically, you have to look past the first two tracks (ʽHoldin' Out For Loveʼ and the title track, a rather unremarkable and stereotypical dance number) so as to find a somewhat amusingly underrated and overlooked, superficially personal little record that was probably much more true to the inner state of mind and the casual lifestyle of late 1970s Cher than, say, something like Spirits Having Flown was to late 1970s Bee Gees. To recognize this fact, I give the album a thumbs up where most other reviewers tend to give it one star out of five — even if you are by nature prejudiced against «white disco», Prisoner is not really a proverbial disco album; it's a whacked-out stylistic hybrid that paints a curious, but wholly believable picture of a befuddled socialite on her own highway to hell. It is obviously cheesy to the extreme, but it is far more vibrant, alive, and amusing than most of the lady's best-selling, but lifeless creations that restored her to commercial favor in the late Eighties. Kind of like the equivalent of silly, but fun late 1970s Aerosmith versus... well, you know.