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POP MUSIC

Can Cross Sail Web to Comeback?

Fifteen years ago, it was all so easy for the Oscar-winner.

May 10, 1998|Marc Weingarten | Marc Weingarten writes about pop music for Calendar

Here's a partial list of artists who are set to release albums May 19: Ice-T, Mitchell Froom, Sean Lennon, Christopher Cross, Natalie Merchant. . . .

Whoa, back up here. Christopher Cross? The guy who pondered the pleasures of sailing and rode like the wind during the early '80s?

That's right. The Texas-born singer-songwriter who became the poster boy for Adult Contemporary pop almost two decades ago is trying to mount a comeback after 15 years of obscurity.

"I did one of those 'Where Are They Now?' segments for CBS recently," says Cross, 47. "And I was thinking, 'Am I gonna look like one of those child actors that sells insurance now?' "

Cross came out of the Austin music scene and signed with Warner Bros. records in 1979. His 1980 self-titled debut album spun off three top 20 hits including the dreamy No. 1 ballad "Sailing," won five Grammys and sold more than 6 million copies. His next album also went multi-platinum, and in 1982 Cross won an Oscar for "The Best That You Can Do," from the Dudley Moore film "Arthur."

"Everything I touched turned to gold back then," says Cross. "I was thinking, 'Hey, I've got everybody fooled into thinking I'm good.' Winning all those Grammys was tough, because it fostered some resentment, like, 'Who is this newcomer to win all these awards?' It was a tremendous burden for me to try and follow up that success. It weighed heavily on my soul, and affected the quality of my work."

Indeed, Cross made four albums from 1984 to 1994, which together sold a mere fraction of his debut. "My success was so meteoric that it put me on a perch I found hard to stay on," says the singer, who lives in Montecito.

But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a has-been. Cross put together a Web site for fans to track down his out-of-print late-'80s albums and was swamped with thousands of requests. "It made me realize that I have enough fans to make this new record worth my while," he says.

Cross' new label, CMC, specializes in reclamation projects by rock veterans--it released recent albums by Styx, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Joe Cocker. "When you're working with people who have been at the pinnacle and are starting from scratch, you want them to have psychological strength and character like Chris does," says CMC Chairman Tom Lipsky. "Chris isn't driven by royalty checks. He's making music because he wants to."

Cross certainly harbors no illusions about dominating the marketplace the way he did for a brief, shining moment 18 years ago. "It would take a miracle for me to break though, the way the business is structured now," says Cross, whose new album is titled "Walking in Babylon."

"Radio is so fragmented, and there's no way I'm being booked on Leno or Letterman. But I think I've made my best album in a long time, and I'm enjoying myself. Only time will tell what will happen."

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