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Cyndi Lauper's Still Unusual

Without a label, singer shines on

September 6, 2002 12:00 AM ET

On the surface, Cyndi Lauper hasn't changed that much since 1983, when her debut album catapulted her to fame next to other then-newbies Madonna and Prince: She still has a larger than life New York personality, a skewed fashion sense and a powerful operatic voice. Her old songs are still fresh, mostly because she has not lost enthusiasm for them. She is clearly having fun with her life and her music. Behind the gloss, however, the older (forty-nine) and wiser Lauper is poised to stay relevant, even if the general public views her as an amusing relic.

Heading this effort is Shine, a lively, independently-produced EP that contains a microcosm of past Lauperisms. There is the ovaries-out title track -- used as a set opener -- that allows her to sing at the top of her lungs, tear around the stage and affirm life. The buoyant and punky "It's Hard to Be Me" fits neatly in a 1980s slipper, while the slinky "Madonna Whore" has a modern don't-fence-me-in theme. The ballad "Water's Edge" rounds out the set.

Currently Lauper is opening for Cher's "Farewell Tour" through December, playing most of Shine and a smattering of her best and best-known songs. The Shine available through retail and sold through her Web site (www.cyndilauper.com) is something less than what it once was. In a perfect world, it would have continued the creative arc of 1992's Hat Full of Stars and 1997's Sisters of Avalon. Both were skilled, experimental albums that pushed the limits of her talent, logical progressions from her chock-full-of-hits 1984 debut, She's So Unusual. But, according to Lauper, these later efforts were too, well, unusual, for her record company, Sony/Epic.

"I thought [Sisters of Avalon] was a great record, but my record company had issues," she says. "I was out there touring, pregnant, opening for Tina Turner. Tina was on Virgin at the time, and their people felt so sorry for me they helped with my promotion."

When the tour ended Lauper asked to be released from her contract. Sony agreed, but only if she recorded a Christmas album. "I went along with that, because it was something I wanted to do anyway," she says. "And I did everything right. I opened the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center. I did Rosie, did Letterman, but people still couldn't get the records. They were promoting someone else that year. Maybe they didn't like the idea that I called it Merry Christmas -- Have a Nice Life!"

Lauper admits that some of her record company problems originate from her own lack of diplomacy. "Whenever I'm talking to someone important there's always a moment where the other people in the room choke on their food because of something I said."

Released from Sony, she recorded the full-length Shine, which was set for release last year on Edel Records, but Edel went under before the album came out, and Lauper began looking for alternatives. Surprisingly, she'd play the new songs and audiences started singing along, prompting her to put something out for the fans.

"I didn't want to shoot my whole wad, but wanted to put something out and picked the ones that people were singing along with," she says. "Although I have no idea how they heard them in the first place."

While Lauper attempts to find the complete Shine a home, she admits it's somewhat outdated. Written and recorded before last September's terrorist attacks, the album is "very 2001, which is not where I am anymore." As a result, there is an entire second album in the can, but there are no concrete plans for its release.

But in the battle of Lauper versus the suits, the odds are good. "The gatekeepers will come and go," she says. "But I'll always be here. I know how to sing. I know how to write. When I was a little kid I could always win anybody over by singing. When I thought my house was haunted I figured that if I could sing a song and charm the ghosts they wouldn't kill me. And it must have worked . . . I'm still here."

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