The legs, the hair, the history! If Tina Turner comes across like a marketing concept in shimmy shoes, she’s only being true to her past. Turner’s never been an originator; instead, she’s always been the expression of that colorful ex-husband or today’s smooth corporate team. It’s just as well that she doesn’t call the musical shots: Turner passed on “Physical,” which became Olivia Newton-John’s biggest success, and only sang “What’s Love Got to Do with It” as a concession to insistent management. Even back in the early Sixties, Turner’s radar was off. An R&B belter at the dawn of the soul era, she missed a good twenty years of evolution in black music. She and Ike chose to court white pop and rock audiences instead of mastering the new idioms. “River Deep, Mountain High” may be Phil Spector’s crowning achievement, but it wasn’t a U.S. hit. And Tina’s association with the rock gods served mainly to validate their R&B leanings rather than to advance her own career.
So the monumental success of Private Dancer came not out of the artist’s own traditions (excepting her bias toward white English writer-producers) but seemingly from thin air. It’s no surprise that Turner’s new Break Every Rule, without any deeper creative sources to draw upon, obeys every rule set by Private Dancer, and slavishly.
Instead of trying out some promising new collaborators on this LP (how about Mike Scott of the Waterboys, Tears for Fears or even the Hooters?), Turner’s organization doubled up on the safe bets, giving us more from Terry Britten, Mark Knopfler and Rupert Hine, her partners from Private Dancer. Bryan Adams is a low-risk addition (considering the success of their duet “It’s Only Love”), but is that really the producers’ idea of innovation?
Rule rules out the growth and daring that we expect of a major artist. But looking past “Typical Male,” the rote first single, and “I’ll Be Thunder,” Rupert Hine’s bombastic closer, Turner and her crew have compiled an enjoyable album.
For one thing, Turner has never sung better. In the “A Fool in Love” days she possessed more pure curdle, but there’s plenty of that left (check out “Girls,” David Bowie’s spectacular Spector deconstruction), and now, for the first time, there’s a depth of understanding to her readings. From the smooch in “What You Get Is What You See” to the admission in Knopfler’s “Overnight Sensation” (“Well I guess I been a long time/Workin’ in the backline/Tryin’ to make a song fit/You know it never was mine”), Tina even lets in some humor. Throughout Break Every Rule, Turner sounds as if she had the time, guidance and confidence to really master these songs. The result is a potent display of passion and control, and that alone would make this record worth discovering.
Break Every Rule comes in two halves. Side one is all Britten (producing, writing with Graham Lyle and rendering Bowie’s “Girls” in fine style). Side two is Bryan Adams and rematches with Knopfler, Hine and Paul Brady. The Adams number is not one of his joyful throwaways, but rather a piece of organ-driven early-Seventies rock scholarship that manages to be at once slight and overwrought. Hine’s contribution, the title track, is a modern love song that skips to an ageless guitar part from Fixxer Jamie West-Oram. As ear candy goes, this is definitely in the nuts ‘n’ fudge class. “Overnight Sensation,” a Tina autobiography ghostwritten by Knopfler, strives for the same fun quotient as Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life.” It doesn’t quite make it, and neither does the narrative, but then “Private Dancer” was equally suspect in the character-development department. Now as before, Knopfler’s text is saved by Turner’s delivery.
Far better than “Overnight Sensation” is Brady’s “Paradise Is Here,” a Knopfler production that balances the virtues of surge and restraint. The chorus goes, “‘Cos paradise is here/It’s time to stop your crying/The future is this moment/And not some place out there/Tonight I need your love/Don’t talk about tomorrow/Right now I need your loving…./Right now.” To hear Turner sing these words is a wonder, both because of what she brings to them and what they bring to her. As a piece of casting, it’s outstanding work: the paradigm of sexual challenge orders her doubt-ridden lover to perform in the sack as a means to regain his own confidence and direction. A half dozen more like “Paradise,” and Break Every Rule would be a remarkable album, not just a good one.
The five Britten-Lyle songs on side one are all listenable. “What You Get” may venture into the light-rock terrain of Juice Newton, and “Two People” may hark back a little too blatantly to the glories of “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” but they are both as engaging as the lesser songs on Private Dancer. “Afterglow” and “Till the Right Man Comes Along” (despite the latter’s irritatingly inappropriate country twang) are as close as Britten comes to a successor for “What’s Love.” They reprise the admirable quiet of their model, but they don’t say — or even attempt to say — nearly as much.
That’s why Obey, uh, Break Every Rule is not a Major Artist move: compare the risky manners of “Papa Don’t Preach” or “True Colors” or Billy Idol’s new single “To Be a Lover” with the likable safety of “Typical Male.” Certainly, Rule is a satisfying record, and it will be as welcome to Turner’s fans as Madonna’s True Blue is to hers. And, since Turner has never been a major artist in the full sense, perhaps it’s unfair to expect more of her. Curiously, the depth and quality of Turner’s performances raise such expectations as never before. Can’t wait to hear the next Tina Turner album.