Review: “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper (CD, 1986)

Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate uncertain, is the 1986 album True Colors by American singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper. Does this album paint a beautiful picture, or is just too abstract? Read on…

Cyndi Lauper - True Colors (1986) album cover
Cyndi Lauper – True Colors (1986) album

The album opens with the teasing synths and bursting drums of second single Change Of Heart. In the verses it reminds me a bit of a rockier version of Paula Abdul‘s hit Straight Up which was yet to happen. Despite its fresh sound and energy, and the video being filmed on a freezing windy day in central London in front of lots of crowds, and the track having The Bangles tucked away for some reason on some lovely backing vocal harmonies, and Nile Rodgers on guitar, the track sadly stalled in the UK singles chart at #67.

Next up is fifth and final single Maybe He’ll Know, which saw release in the US. This song musically sounds like the love child a 50’s rock ‘n’ roll cast-off from Shakin’ Stevens, and her earlier major hit Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but vocally it sounds a little more skittish. The key change also feels a little clumsy, despite the presence of another star tucked away on backing vocals – Billy Joel.

This is followed by Boy Blue, which was a low-charting single in the US. This is a mid-tempo track and it gently trundles along, but gives Cyndi plenty of opportunities to reach high with her vocals (and she most definitely takes them), and in the process you just catch some of her rockier vocals too. In all, it’s simply a nice little track.

The album’s titular, lead, and hit, single True Colors is up next, and this is one of Cyndi’s most recognisable songs. The track really shows off her fragile vocals in this song, set among some lovely percussion and strummed guitars. The track gently builds, along with her vocal power, but never strays from an almost lullaby sound. This gave her a much needed #12 hit in the UK charts in late-Summer 1986.

A thumping bass drum ushers in Calm Inside The Storm before giving way to some wonderful 80’s Linn drums and keyboards. This is quite a turn in styles for this album so far, sounding quite commercial and mainstream. It’s bright and upbeat, and the drum machine beats makes it a challenge to keep your foot from tapping. It’s catchy, and should have been a single.

Third and final charting UK single is a pretty mellow cover of the Marvin Gaye hit What’s Going On, aside from the opening sequence which sounds like synthesised machine gun fire and explosions. I’m not entirely sure why Cyndi is covering this track, but despite picking such a classic, her version failed to be met with success, and stumbled in the UK chart at #57.

Iko Iko is next, a cover of an old 1950s song, made most famous by The Dixie Cups in 1964. Again, the percussion is out, but this time in abundance. This track is quite simply fantastic for Cyndi to do, she is vocally and stylistically well suited here. The track relies on vocal layers and percussion and is a wonderful little inclusion.

Sounding like my old childhood 49-key 1980’s Yamaha keyboard demo, The Faraway Nearby, comes marching straight in. This track features Aimee Mann on backing vocals, giving both some lovely harmonies, and Cyndi some underscoring to her vocal rollercoaster. I’m left thinking of Tanita Tikaram, who would be a few years off.

911 follows that, with some chunky synth stabs stomping right in, as Cyndi gets to show off her more rock vocals. There’s some wonderfully spacey sounding synths hopping in and out from amongst the chugging guitars. This track ends with Cyndi’s 911 call being connected to the comedy film character Pee Wee Herman providing the voice of the Operator, fresh out of his film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure the previous year.

The album closes with the pop rock number One Track Mind. We’re treated to hard stadium rock beats and near ceremonial organ synth sequences. These dominate the track, with Cyndi’s vocals delivering some slightly abstract lyrics.

Cyndi Lauper’s lead single ‘True Colors’ from 1986.

Verdict

Over all this album is a mixed bag.

Misusing The Bangles by tucking them away as backing vocalists is a bit unfortunate – she should have done a proper collaboration with them, and Billy Joel and Aimee Mann’s appearances are quite subtle.

Whilst there are some strong tracks here, notably the title track, 911, and Change Of Heart, it’s Calm Inside The Storm that hits the mark here and really really should have found its way to have become a single.

A second album is always hard to deliver, and I’m afraid that this one only partly manages it.

Rated 3 stars - Give it a go!
  • POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1986 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #25, certified Silver by the BPI.
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.50 from a Salvation Army store.

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