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Lauper: Dull Hues

September 14, 1986|TERRY ATKINSON

"TRUE COLORS." Cyndi Lauper. Portrait. Let's hope these aren't Lauper's true colors. Almost three years to work on a second album and she gives us this ?

This kooky, carrot-topped, Gypsy-gotten-up harlequin took the world by charm with her smash late-'83 debut LP "She's So Unusual," and she made many believe that title--an unusual personality and an unusual talent, one that could conceivably be the reigning female pop singer of the decade.

It's time for a reassessment. The debut album gave us such disarming gems as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "She-Bop" and "Time After Time." In trying to recapture their tones, this LP misses the heart and humor. "Maybe He'll Know," a '50s-ish romp with Billy Joel, is on a par with Joel's lesser nostalgic forays--instantly familiar, instantly forgettable. "Calm Inside the Storm" is just forgettable. "Change of Heart," with backup vocals by the Bangles, sounds like a hit but loud, tumbling percussion smothers the song.

"One Track Mind" and "911" (that's Pee-wee Herman's voice at the end) represent the would-be goofball Cyndi--"911" tries to recapture the zany slant of "She-Bop" and features a similar riff--but the desired sense of giddy joy is never achieved.

Only the title tune and "Boy Blue," each offering encouragement, have anything to say beyond love-song cliches. The former achieves a contemplative mood, though not one as moving as "Time After Time." What remains are two oldies that would seem just right for showing off Lauper's brighter and darker colors--the Dixie Cups' "Iko Iko" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On"--but both receive simply passable performances.

By-the-book tech-pop arrangements, playing and production give it all a glossy, dull edge. Even this might have been overcome if Lauper had her heart in her singing--the one thing you'd most expect of her. But her vocals often lack force or conviction, sounding like halfway-there rehearsal takes.

"What's going on?" indeed. Mysteries abound: Why did the album take so long and why is the final result so lifeless? Did someone drop Cyndi on her head during one of those wrestling matches?

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