Brooklyn-bred Cyndi Lauper sounds like no other singer on the current scene. She may be the finest female junk-rock vocalist since the heyday of the great Maureen Gray, more than twenty years ago. Like Gray, a black Philadelphian who had a string of local hits in the Sixties, Lauper has a wild and wonderful skyrocket of a voice — the epitome of pre-Beatles girl-group pop — and at her best, as she often is on this smartly produced solo debut, she sounds like a missing musical link with that long-gone golden age.
But She’s So Unusual is no mere oldies pastiche. Lauper’s already been that route with her former band, Blue Angel (on whose 1981 album she came as close to the girl-group grail as is probably possible with the breathtaking “Maybe He’ll Know”). Here, boosted by a powerful, synth-based band, Lauper turns away from nouveau trash and trains her talent on some really first-rate material. In the process, she comes up with two instant hits: a thundering “Money Changes Everything” (in its original version, by the Brains, one of the great lost anthems of the Seventies) and a breathy, beautiful cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” She also has a good, goofy time with Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” does an almost tasteful reading of Jules Shear’s attractive “All through the Night” and makes like Cars-meet-Eurythmics on the riff-stoked “She Bop.” There are some problems: “Witness” founders in its own aimlessness, and “He’s So Unusual,” a brief, cutesy antique from the Twenties, has no business being on the record. But when Lauper’s extraordinary pipes connect with the right material, the results sound like the beginning of a whole new golden age.