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February 1999

Cher: Believe

Music review of Believe by Cher, Live on Two Legs by Pearl Jam, Human Being from Seal, Psycho from Element of Crime, I'm Back from James Brown, and Dead Bees on a Cake from David Sylvian.

The half American-Indian Cher, née Cherilyn Sakisian LaPierre, was born in 1946 in El Centro, California. Her long career encompasses an array of images: in the sixties she was known as the hippy chick partner to Sonny Bono, in the seventies she became a disco diva, in the eighties a biker babe, and in the nineties a symbol of the eternal youth a woman can achieve through plastic surgery. Her year 2000 image? With the release of her amazingly successful CD, Believe, Cher seems to be, well, just Cher. Asked if she has shed her need to create new personae, Cher replies, “I don’t believe I ever did put much spin on my image, I have my own identity. I do, however, admit to being a total clothes freak. I love wearing flipped-out styles in public. Unfortunately those of us who dress flashy get taken less seriously or lumped into the category of publicity-seeking tramps. That is, of course, nonsense! If people want to ask me what my image is, I say I have no image. I take myself seriously, even if the masses don’t.” Cher is most certainly being taken seriously by the neo-disco movement. The music on her new album is as excitingly euphoric as the dance floor classics of the seventies. “To be honest, I never was a big party girl – I was just presented as one back then,” says Cher, in danger of negating her current work. “I do, though, really love to dance. I will always be the first one on the floor and the last one to close the club. I need this interplay between music and movement.“ These sentiments apparently drive the dance-friendly Believe. “The truth is that my musical advisor recommended that I do a dance record. I was all for it. I’m happy with the work on this album. Dancing makes you sexy, right? Sexier than any plastic surgery could.” Pearl Jam** Live on Two Legs (Epic/Sony Music) Those who have experienced these grunge icons from Seattle in a performance know that the quartet is a powerful, hard-driving bundle of energy. Live on Two Legs, the band’s first live recording, should therefore offer fans a treat, but instead is a curious disappointment. Eddie Vedder and Co. give the impression of being completely bored.The sound quality alone is a flop, rendering the “canned” versions of songs superior to the live ones. But wait a minute, didn’t Pearl Jam achieve worldwide fame because of their fantastic live shows? This poor showing is a slap in the face of grunge. Seal** Human Being (WEA) With his first two million-selling albums, the Nigerian-born, London-based artist Seal brought new meaning to the term “classic soul.” Seal appeared to have all the qualities needed to become the next Marvin Gaye or Luther Vandross – his music a mixture of passionate vocals, personal charisma, and star quality. Unfortunately none of those attributes are evident on Human Being. All twelve songs are stale, emotionless, and un-sexy. The production is technically perfect, which will bring some enjoyment to hi-fi fanatics, but otherwise this album leaves the soul out of soul music. Element of Crime**** Psycho (Motor Music) If there is a German band drenched in the Weimar republic-era cultural tradition, it is the Berlin-based group Element of Crime. Singer and songwriter Sven Regener’s music deliberately takes its flavor from the sound of the twenties, with a heavy emphasis on the duo of Brecht and Weill, with whom Regener feels spiritually linked. It is not so much an authentic reproduction here, afterall there are techno sounds incorporated into Psycho, but the ghost of the Golden Twenties delightfully lends atmosphere to the collection. This is a CD that offers a grand treat to listeners of all nationalities. James Brown*** I’m Back (Edel) It‘s taken a few years for the reincarnation of funk music by “Misssstaaaah James Brown” to take place. Drug abuse, a prison stay, and vocal problems put the master out of commission for several years. With his aptly named album, I’m Back, the 65-year-old Brown leaps into the pop world once again with the same powerful pipes that made him famous. The songs are reminiscent of the classic James Brown sound – a stomping, clap-your-hands intensity. You’ll swear you are listening to the man of 40 years ago. In fact, this new work could already be dubbed a classic. David sylvian**** Dead Bees on a Cake (Virgin) David Sylvian. Nothing is ever good enough for him, as he is ruled by his own incompleteness. This has led to a life of musical experimentation, change, and top performance by the Londoner. Dead Bees on a Cake, Sylvian’s latest solo release, showcases the talents of this predominantly one-man show. Sylvian writes, produces, sings, and plays most instruments on the 14-cut CD. A mix of jazz, New Age, pop, and avantgarde, the work has less to do with specific musical strengths, and more to do with the mood it creates. A complex blend, it leaves you feeling inexplicably touched.

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