We're Only Human (08/20/99)
Sarah Brightman, Eden (Angel Records 1999) - Beautiful Sarah Brightman, who starred as Christine in the London and New York productions of "The Phantom of the Opera" (a role created for her by ex-husband, Andrew Lloyd Webber), has released a new solo album in Eden. With a mix of songs, from the Latin-versed "In Paradisum," to a cover of Hooverphonic's 1998 techno-pop "Eden," to the 70's Kansas hit, "Dust in the Wind," Brightman continues her move from the footlights.
Brightman (now age 38) was born and raised near London, and enjoyed her first Top 10 UK hit in 1978 with "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper," recorded with Hot Gossip. Sarah was later spotted by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the chorus of Cats, and the two were married from 1984 through 1990. The pair enjoyed huge stage success, culminating in "Phantom of the Opera." (Brightman now lives in Germany with her new love.)
Brightman is ready to move forward, explaining that, "The word 'Eden' conjured up the right feeling for the title, a feeling of finding your own place." At the same time, she adds that "Eden is an album about memories," noting the themes for two songs for which she wrote the lyrics: "So Many Things," about a past relationship, and "Anytime, Anywhere," about returning to a special place and finding it changed.
The knock on Brightman has been that she lost direction without Webber. While some of the criticism has been unduly harsh (one English paper went so far as to refer to "Sarah's fundamental pointlessness"), it has an element of truth.
Eden is an album that flits from genre to genre, all wrapped in Sarah's lovely soprano voice. Not classical, not pop, not opera, Eden charts an uneven course. Brightman has great voice, and should return to the stage where she found fame.
Pretenders, Viva El Amor! (Warner Bros. 1999) - Twenty years after she burst onto the rock scene with "Brass in Pocket," Chrissie Hynde returns with another solid serving in Viva El Amor! The new album finds the Pretenders mixing tight-fisted rock with bouncy melodies and strong hooks. In short, this is the work of professionals.
The band includes Chrissie on vocals and guitar, Adam Seymour on guitars and bass, Martin Chambers on drums, and Chuck Norman on keyboards and programming. Also contributing are guest artists Jules Shear on backing vocals and strings from the Duke Quartet. (The Duke Quartet also appeared on the band's 1995 acoustic live album, The Isle of View.)
The album opens strongly with the up tempo "Popstar," before segueing into the album's second track, the radio-friendly "Human" (which could be a big hit ala "Back on the Chain Gang"). While the album slows for the occasional ballad, such as the tempting, "One More Time," Viva El Amor! bounces back quickly with rockers like "Legalize Me" (a thinly-veiled reference to Chrissie's political beliefs).
Explains Chrissie, "During the time that I was making the album, I married a Columbian man. I started to look at the propaganda and media tools of that culture's past, and I thought that would make for an interesting visual concept for the album . . . and then I thought of the title, 'Viva El Amor!" I shared all this with Linda McCartney. She loved the idea and she wanted to do a picture. I went to her studio and took some pictures."
Chrissie continues. "A week after Linda died [from cancer], I got a call from someone at the photo agency, who said he had something that Linda had left for me. It was the picture from our session with me looking at the sky and the words 'Viva El Amor' on it. Needless to say, it became the cover of the album."
The album was recorded in two different sessions during the last two years, first with producer Stephen Street, then in the studio with producer Stephen Hague. Says Chrissie, "We recorded for eight weeks, then we did a tour last summer - and then we went in and did a few more songs, just to try some other stuff."
The Pretenders arose from the London punk scene to become an enduring band with their catchy riffs. Chrissie demurs, stating, "If people respect what we do, that's great. But it's never been my intention to change the world or set an example for others to follow. I just wanted to play guitar in a rock-and-roll band, and make music that people could dig."
Chrissie accomplishes that goal in spades on Viva El Amor! This is an album you can buy just for the single ("Human") - but you'll soon find that it's no one-hit wonder. Dig this band.
The Rentals, Seven More Minutes (Maverick Records 1999) - The Rentals, more of a collaboration than a band, deliver a modern rock sound in Seven More Minutes. With a revolving cast of vocalists, the album has a progressive, Brit-rock sound.
The Rentals consist of Matt Sharp on vocals, Rod Cervera on guitars, Jim Richards on moog and arp synthesizers, and Kevin March on drums. Explains Sharp, "The Rentals are a place, not a band, a place to collaborate . . . Hang out and create . . . I don't understand it, didn't produce it, or create it . . . But she said I directed it."
Contributing their vocal talents to Seven More Minutes are Damon Albarn from Blur, Miki Berenyi from Lush, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Donna Matthews from Elastica, and Petra Haden from the now-dissolved that dog. Indeed, it is Haden's vocals that provide the highlights on songs like "Overlee," "Keep Sleeping," and "Jumping Around."
The new album was written in Barcelona, Spain, and recorded in London, England, with Sharp at the helm. With influences like "poems left on answering machines and studios built in churches," the band says "there's no need to force it."
Seven More Minutes is a moving target, never stopping in one place. Explains the band, "The alarm keeps going off . . . and you keep hitting the snooze, 'Seven more minutes, please.'" For a hearty serving of progressive rock, try Seven More Minutes.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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