CHER: IT'S A MAN'S WORLD (1995)
1) Walking In Memphis; 2) Not Enough Love In The World; 3) One By One; 4) I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me); 5) Angels Running; 6) Paradise Is Here; 7) I'm Blowin' Away; 8) Don't Come Around Tonite; 9) What About The Moonlight; 10) The Same Mistake; 11) The Gunman; 12) The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore; 13) Shape Of Things To Come; 14) It's A Man's Man's Man's World.
Stuck in between Cher's two triumphant eras (the ʽIf I Could Turn Back Time /And Bring The Fishnet Look Into The Sixties/ʼ one and the ʽI Believe /In Plastic Surgery/ʼ one), It's A Man's World is kind of an odd record, largely overlooked and forgotten, but not without its own special twist. By the mid-Nineties, glam-pop was dead and gone, so trying to release a follow-up to Love Hurts would have made no sense; however, latching on to some new fashionable direction did not seem to be an easy task, and was made even harder by a personal crisis she was going through at the time (diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, among other things). Going the alt-rock route would not be natural, yet neither would be turning into Celine Dion (what with Cher still sticking to a few crumbs of «rock authenticity» that she had always had in her).
In the end, signing up with Warner Bros. for this record, she went for a «soulful» approach: It's A Man's World kind of walks the line between neo-soul, neo-country, modern R&B and adult contemporary. I know, I know — sounds awful, right? Well, this is definitely no masterpiece: for starters, most of the songs are slow, lazy on the hooks, conventional in terms of arrangement, and there's fourteen of them, meaning that the record drags on for over an hour, when the typical length for a Cher record used to be 35-40 minutes. Add to this the usual reliance on corporate songwriters (though, fortunately, her love affair with Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Michael Bolton, and Bon Jovi has come to an end) and the unusually somber / introspective mood on many of the tracks (not the best emotional setting for Cher), and it is easy to see why the album was both a commercial and critical letdown at the time.
On the other hand, revisiting it in retrospect shows quite definitively that it is at least an attempt to make something serious — not merely a conveyer-produced glossy pattern like «The Trilogy», but a collection of songs somehow reflecting Cher's own state of mind at the time. Even the title, as well as the decision to cover the respective James Brown chestnut, reflects that, as she said something about the wish to sing a bunch of «men's songs» from a woman's standpoint. Granted, portraying herself as Eve on the front sleeve, snake-clad and ready to tempt her man with the big red one, is not necessarily as «self-empowering» an image as one might think, but then again, you never can tell with feminist / anti-feminist standpoints (was Eve the first «self-asserting woman» or the first «dumb bitch» in existence? Or both?...). Anyway, on the whole It's A Man's World is not an emphatic feminist statement — just a collection of pensive, occasionally intriguing, but usually rather languid and dull songs about... uh... relationships.
The first song already illustrates all that is good and bad about the record — Cher's take on Marc Cohn's ʽWalking In Memphisʼ stays fairly close to the original, retaining its Roy Bittan-ish keyboard melody and glossy production, and although the intention is good (a sincere tribute to the «Memphis feel» is always welcome), the realisation hardly ever makes it come across as something special. The line about "he said, ʽTell me, are you a Christian?ʼ, and I said, ʽMan, I am tonight!ʼ" certainly does not have that special appeal for Cher that it has for the Jewish heritage of Marc Cohn, but she delivers it with all the strength she can gather, and the desire to churn up a rootsy-spiritual aura is clearly felt — too bad that she and her backing band did nothing to actually make the music ring out with at least a bit of that good old Memphis vibe.
The second single from the album, and the only one that charted, was ʽOne By Oneʼ — not surprisingly, since it is one of the few songs here that would have fit in with the upbeat glam formula of the previous three records. Originally written by Antony Griffiths of The Real People and recorded by Eurovision hero Johnny Logan... okay, it's not really a musical horror: it's actually fun when it gets to the chorus, and it's also fun to see Cher aim for these falsetto notes in the verse while at the same time going for her bottom range on the chorus. She also does okay turning blues-rock into dance-pop (ʽI Wouldn't Treat A Dogʼ), and even some of the slower ballads have special touches of moodiness (ʽThe Gunmanʼ, with a mildly threatening funky guitar line), but in the end, there is only one song here that I would be taking home with me — ʽShape Of Things To Comeʼ, nothing to do with the old Mann/Weil classic, but rather an entirely new composition by none other than the Buggles' Trevor Horn and 10cc's Lol Creme.
That number is actually a mini-masterpiece of moodiness — fast, tense, paranoid, literate, and ambiguous (you can't even lay a definitive claim to the song being all about man-woman relationships — after all, no song whose hookline is based on the phrase "shape of things to come" can be centered exclusively around personal stuff). There was nothing like this on any part of The Glam Trilogy, and there would never be again — in musical and atmospheric terms, it is arguably the best thing to come out of the Cher camp in the past thirty years. And then she follows it up with a really good reading of the James Brown track — this time, adding in some extra layers of tragedy, with a rip-roaring guitar break and a hushed, husky coda that turns the tables radically against the song's protagonist: "He's lost in the wilderness... he's lost in the bitterness".
Ultimately, my rating shifted from a thumbs down to neutral as I was writing this review. Trim some obvious filler, replace some of the drum machines with normal drumming, get her a good guitar player, speed up one or two tempos, and it might be real close to a thumbs up — and, as it usually happens with Cher, this is precisely the album that nobody rushed out to buy, because nobody wants a Cher that's getting too serious for her britches: everybody just wants the glitzy pop diva of ʽTake Me Homeʼ and ʽIf I Could Turn Back Timeʼ. Three years later, she'd give them what they wanted, but this one, it seems, was made more for herself, and, fortunately, it still shows after all these years.