Madonna is to Cyndi Lauper what Britney Spears is to Christina Aguilera.
With more than a decade to get to know the latter two, comparisons of Madge and Britney seem more laughable as time goes on while Lauper and Aguilera seem to share some cosmic sisterhood — they both have fabulous voices (Lauper’s is underrated, Aguilera’s overrated) and have tackled unexpected genres with aplomb.
I couldn’t help but ponder the comparisons when copies of new albums from both landed on my desk at the same time a couple weeks ago. Aguilera’s (“Bionic”) is an unfocused, over-produced mess but Lauper’s new project “Memphis Blues,” while ultimately a curiosity piece, has real merit.
Lauper, the most gay-supportive of any mainstream pop star, enjoys dabbling in specialty projects, which in the last decade or more have outnumbered her more mainstream albums. “Blues,” which enjoyed an unexpectedly high Billboard chart debut at 26, finds her working with several of the most respected players in the field (pianist Allen Toussaint, guitarist B.B. King and prodigy Jonny Lang chief among them) on a covers album that gives her plenty of space to sink her teeth into the most tried-and-true blues formulas of all time.
Hypnotically languid chord progressions, executed with tinkling pianos, swampy B-3 organs and ringing electric guitars, are the foundations of most of the tracks. There’s nary a dud in the batch but standouts abound such as the down-and-out Lang duet “How Blue Can You Get,” the sax-ridden showstopper “Don’t Cry No More” and a tougher, almost rockified “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” which is given heft by gritty soul vocals from Ann Peebles (of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” fame).
Coming on the heels of 2008’s dance record “Bring Ya to the Brink,” it’s great to see Lauper, whose career has meandered at times with eons between releases, back in a regular routine of inspiration. She uses her voice, often kittenish and playful here, to great effect. The record is much like her 2003 standards set “At Last”: it’s conceptually great and has some lovely moments, but ultimately is a bit too gimmicky to be considered a masterpiece.
“Night Works” is the second version of Scissor Sisters’ third album. A previous version, on which they had worked for 18 months, was scrapped due to the band being unhappy with the finished product. This new version was inspired by frontman Jake Shears’ clubbing in Berlin.
The album was co-produced by Stuart Price of Zoot Woman, who has also worked with Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani and Frankmusik. This is the first time that Scissor Sisters have worked with another producer.
“Fire With Fire” finds them returning to their Elton John influences of their first album, though with a pop treatment.
“Invisible Light” with its New Order-styled production, is pop perfection. It also has Sir Ian McKellen with a spoken word interlude at the song’s end sounding reminiscent in style to that on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Unfortunately, that’s where anything remotely original ends. The rest of this album sounds tired and clichéd. Whether it was intentional that they tried to sound retro or they were trying to be cute, the result lacks originality.
The one positive highlight of “Night Works” is Ana Matronic. She needs to try a solo effort, as it seems Scissor Sisters has run out of new ideas.