Fans may complain about some of Cyndi Lauper’s public gestures — what was she doing hanging around with those pro-wrestling cretins? — but her voice has never let anyone down. A Night to Remember, Lauper’s third solo album, has its hits and misses, but it’s united by a dozen vocal performances that steamroll over most objections.
Most heartening about A Night to Remember is the relative lack of kid stuff. Lauper’s previous records — She’s So Unusual and True Colors — veered wildly from intense, committed performances (“Money Changes Everything,” from the former, and “Boy Blue,” from the latter) to gimmicky, empty-headed pop songs so light you were afraid they’d evaporate right off the turntable. On this record, the mischief is reserved for the arrangements (no Pee-wee Herman cameos, either), which are simply the most developed and least intrusive of Lauper’s career. With an army of sympathetic session players at their command, Lauper and coproducer Lennie Petze (Phil Ramone and mix master E. T. Thorngren also produced tracks) marshal a big, convincing sound that’s both impassioned and very commercial. This record will sound great on the radio, but it doesn’t sound like the result of any concessions.
Uptempo tracks like “I Drove All Night” and “Primitive” burn with adult urgency, although the bass line of “Primitive,” a direct lift from “Billie Jean,” undermines the track’s considerable charms. The ballads — Lauper’s forte since her days with Blue Angel — smolder with purpose. On “My First Night Without You,” she builds from a whisper to a scream and captures all the nuances in between. Lauper’s lyric concerns have matured, but it’s her music that’s truly come of age. Although keyboards remain the center of her sound, the frills on A Night to Remember are thankfully few. Keyboards play against rough guitar (Eric Clapton is one of the LP’s seven listed guitarists), yielding a sound that’s professional but not too slick.
The compositions on A Night to Remember are, however, sometimes spotty. The team of Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly wrote (or co-wrote with Lauper) half the tracks, offering up consistent if not spellbinding tunes; the other half of the record (particularly the cloying “Insecurious”) is somewhat disappointing. Unlike her previous records, there are no revelatory remakes, which could have added muscle. Particularly missed is the work of Tom Gray (former leader of the Brains), who helped Lauper with two of her best songs, “Money Changes Everything” and “The Faraway Nearby.” Lauper herself is growing as a writer — her “Kindred Spirit” serves as a fine benediction for A Night to Remember — so there’s reason to be hopeful that in succeeding records the filler will be replaced by more trenchant tunes. And if one day she can write as well as she can sing, there will be no stopping her.