Review: ‘A Woman & A Man’ by Belinda Carlisle (CD, 1996)


This is the 1996 album ‘A Woman & A Man’ by Go-Go’s singer, and serial 1980’s American hit-maker, Belinda Carlisle, but was this a Love In The Key Of C, or more Hell on Earth? Read on….

Belinda Carlisle - A Woman & A Man album cover.
Belinda Carlisle – A Woman & A Man

The album opens with the lead single In Too Deep which gave her a #6 UK hit in the summer of 1996. The song opens with some wonderful strings and piano and really gets off to a strong and catchy start, as Belinda effortless slides those familiar sultry tones over the top. This is quite a warm and gentle song, with lots of space between vocals and instruments, allowing you to appreciate each of them. Long-term collaborator and songwriter royalty Rick Nowels is on duty here, which he retains for most of the songs on this album, and most of Belinda’s albums to date.

This is followed by the album’s fourth and final UK single California which gives her a down-tempo track to work with. Here she refers to the death of actor River Phoenix at The Viper Room in California in 1993. Despite its sad underlying theme, it is quite a nice little song but it failed to reach the success of the other singles, and got stuck at #31.

Next up is the titular A Woman And A Man, which opens with the Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra before giving way to vocals and a fairly upbeat but light song. The wah-wah and backing vocals help to give the track some pace as it flicks from verse to chorus. The orchestra really gets to shine here, almost giving it a disco feeling about 2/3rds of the way through. It’s a nice song, but not single territory.

Remember September follows this and it opens with some eerie guitar and strings, almost sounding like a weird 80’s pop ballad as some keyboards trickle in over the top. Belinda’s vocals feel a little wasted here, and the song stutters about giving what feels a bit like a disjointed collection of verses and melodies. Ironically, this September is one to forget.

Next is Listen To Love which is thankfully a return to form. The song is catchy once the chorus comes in, with plenty of tambourine, and this builds up each time you hear it. The song feels perfectly paced, has plenty of layered instruments and backing vocals without drowning out Belinda’s vocals. It really is a jolly little tune, as it tries to encourage the listener with the ‘come on now, come on now’ and ‘open up your heart, listen to love’ lyrics. This probably could have been a hit if it had made it to being a single.

Second single Always Breaking My Heart is next, and this is the first of the two songs to feature Roxette‘s Per Gessle on songwriting duties. He is, of course, also on those growling guitars that open the track, backing vocals, and behind the production desk, and I find it easy to imagine this having been a Roxette song. Belinda’s rockier vocals really feel at home here, and the catchy chorus gives her a chance to show off that familiar vocal power that we’ve known throughout her big hits. Thankfully it paid-off, giving her a #8 UK hit single in the autumn of 1996, alongside the album release.

The second Per Gessle collaboration Love Doesn’t Live Here follows this, and again opens with guitar that emerges throughout the track, but it’s not him, it’s Steve Farris from Mr. Mister. This song is not as strong, but a nice softer comparison. It feels like b-side territory, and perhaps might have been stronger with more of Per’s involvement.

He Goes On is next and it’s another mid-tempo track, but quite a nice gentle stroll through a reminiscent Belinda remembering some bloke she’s met. Steve Farris is back here on guitar, and at times I could imagine this song being a Christian country music track.

Piano opens Kneel At Your Feet and it’s soon joined by Belinda’s breathy vocals over some feint synthscape. Eventually guitars join in before finally bringing in the drums, backing vocalists, and bass. This is another nice song, but not particularly catchy – just kind of ‘nice’ – and definitely album territory. It would probably have worked nice as the closing track.

Penultimate song Love In The Key Of C is one of my favourites here, and I love it’s swaggering beats. Beautiful vocals from Belinda are set here against a mixture of guitars, sweeping strings, and percussion. It’s a cosy meandering song, that seems to flow effortlessly right through. This was the album’s third single in late 1996, and is Belinda’s last top 20 UK single to date, hitting the #20 spot.

The album closes with My Heart Goes Out To You, which shows Belinda’s softer vocals set alongside a fairly dreamy song. They’re complimented by some acoustic guitar and perfect backing vocals. This was definitely the right choice for the final track.

Belinda Carlisle’s ‘In Too Deep’ video

Verdict

This album is far more gentle than some of Belinda’s earlier offerings, and whilst her vocals here are just as expertly wielded, they’re richer and softer against a less rock-fuelled sound. I feel that this may have limited the success of this album, with fans expecting to hear the Belinda they’d known in the past. The album gave her a reasonable commercial hit in the UK where it was certified Gold, but it failed to find success anywhere else, including in her native USA.

  • POP RESCUE 2019 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1996 UK CHART PEAK: #12, certified Gold.
  • 2019 POP RESCUE COST: £1.79 from eBay.

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