Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 1986 debut album Better Than Heaven by American singer Stacey Q. Does this album sound Heavenly, or does it fail to Connect? Read on…
The album bursts open with lead single Two Of Hearts. It’s chugging bass line and pop beat is simple but slick. Sampled vocals introduce us to Stacey and they are fantastically delicate and sharp here, and they sit perfectly against the dainty synths. Within months, the UK charts began their years of domination by S/A/W acts, and particularly Kylie Minogue. It’s easy to imagine them taking this track on. Sadly, this single flopped at #87 in the UK charts, and Stacey never troubled the UK charts again. It’s hard to believe why this absolute little pop gem failed.
Next up is the follow-up single We Connect, and the melody here is very similar to that of Two Of Hearts in the chorus. Again there’s loads of sampled vocals, but Stacey’s vocals again dance all over the delicate synth arrangement. At times, I expect that she could just say ‘You can dance‘, and suddenly you’d believe that she was the vocalist who might have recorded some of the early Madonna singles. It’s just as catchy as the debut, partly due to its similarity, but it’s also so upbeat with the layers of synths and Stacey’s vocals.
‘Tell Doctor Q everything from the start‘ says a male voice at the start of Insecurity, and then Stacey arrives with a story of teenage life. This track has a wonderfully playful piano, synths and vocal relationship. The simple bass and piano duel races throughout the song, and this helps to give the track a great pace, and expertly sews the whole thing together. A sheer 80’s sounding track, and a really nice little track. This was the album’s third single, but it did not chart in the UK.
Title track Better Than Heaven follows this, co-written by 80’s American band Berlin (of Take My Breath Away fame). This track is far more mellow in comparison to the previous three, and at times it’s just a hard 80’s beat and Stacey’s vocals in the verse. The tempo is lower, and the synths are held back a bit, although the pseudo-gunshot sounds are a bit weirdly placed. The result is a song that shows off the warmth of Stacey Q’s vocals wonderfully.
Don’t Let Me Down is up next, and this opens sounding quite luxurious – with synth strings, a gentle beat, and some occasional harps, despite it’s somewhat downbeat theme. Again, Stacey gets to show off her vocals with this mid-tempo tender slow number, but the song lacks the catchiness or energy of earlier tracks here.
By contrast Music Out Of Bounds is up next, and this is laden with synths, and drum machines. This brings us closer to the more upbeat, fresher sounds of the singles. The track even includes a heavily robotic voice in the chorus – which must have sounded very cutting edge in 1986, and again sounds like something you might have heard on Madonna’s ‘Music‘ or ‘Confessions On A Dancefloor‘ albums. Stacey then goes on to throw a rap in too, sticking to the theme of the ‘music takes you out of bounds‘ lyrics. A wonderful little track, and it stood as the album’s fourth single, although by this point, the UK had already turned her down.
This is followed by Love Or Desire, which sees us return to the fast pop sound heard in Two Of Hearts and We Connect. Muscially, it’s again not far from either. It’s a nice little track, but doesn’t sound quite as strong as those.
Next up is Don’t Break My Heart which gives Stacey another great little 80’s pop song to sing. Her vocals are wonderfully warm here, as the synths and vocal samples swirl around her. Its repeated song title make this track really quite catchy, over a repetitive bass/synth track.
A ton of percussion and a gurgling bass synth leads us into He Doesn’t Understand for 1m 3s before Stacey Q arrives on the microphone. The track builds really nicely during that intro, and sits perfectly beneath Stacey as she delivers the first verse. This is definitely an album track, but it’s a really nice song. Its synth and drum machine sound makes me think of some of the 80’s tracks from the Pet Shop Boys, and I’m sure she’d have been perfectly placed (and UK-career boosted) if that was to have happened. As for the remainder of the track, there’s not that much more to it other than the synths, vocal samples, and a few vocals. The track weighs in at 5m 2s, which makes it the longest one here, and it feels a bit more of a song ‘for’ the musicians rather than Stacey.
The album closes with Dancing Nowhere, and this opens with some simple synths, a hard bass drum and snare drum machine. The the synth sequence again reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys, and particularly their In The Night track (used as theme to the BBC’s The Clothes Show), with a dash of Dead Or Alive. Stacey’s vocals get to show off a defiant strength here. She’s joined by bursts by synth brass, vinyl scratching, and growling electric guitar. She’s joined on vocals by an uncredited male vocal backing singer towards the end, and the result is a really nice catchy track to close the album.
Over all, this album is a wonderful example of 80’s pop music. The 80’s rock-pop is there in the use of hard stadium drum sounds and occasional electric guitars, and some of the vocal style (Dancing Nowhere is the best example of this). It’s then joined by some really great sounding electronic synth-pop style too – the gurgling synths, the pop vocals and lyrics, and the samples.
This album sadly didn’t get any UK chart action, and this is unfortunate because it really deserved some. Stacey Q would have been up against Janet Jackson, Sheena Easton, and Madonna to name but a few, but pre-dates the UK’s pop tidal wave from the likes of S/A/W acts. She definitely deserved greater UK success.
Two Of Hearts, We Connect, Music Out Of Bounds, and Dancing Nowhere are the high points of this album, ironically with only Don’t Let Me Down being the low point.
- POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 4 / 5
- 1986 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: Did not chart.
- POP RESCUE COST: £4.58 from eBay