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When Cher Titles an Album 'Not Commercial,' She Means It

September 24, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

With all the national debate about warning stickers on CDs, Cher is planning to label her next album as not being appropriate for kids.

Maybe she should think about adding another caveat: Not appropriate for most Cher fans.

In a music and acting career that's been full of surprising twists and turns for more than three decades, Cher is making one of the most unexpected in November when she releases "Not Commercial," an album that will be her first ever of songs she wrote herself.

It's not, she stresses, the follow-up to 1998's "Believe," the glossy, dance-oriented album that put her back atop international pop music charts. Rather, it's personal material dealing with topics ranging from time she spent in a Catholic orphanage (the accusatory "Sisters of Mercy") to her feelings about the death of Kurt Cobain ("The Fall") to self-recrimination for thoughtlessly stepping over a homeless woman on a sidewalk ("Our Lady of San Francisco").

Much of the music on the album--which will be sold only via the Internet--echoes '70s singer-songwriter styles, from "With or Without You," for example, evoking Elton John, to the yearning ballad "Still."

"It's very un-Cher like," says Cher, who is also preparing an album that will be the follow-up to "Believe" (she expects to start recording in November for a March release). "But if people really knew me, it is very Cher. But it's so [expletive] dark. I have to put a sticker on it. I don't want kids buying it. I write like I speak--not exactly like a sailor, but colorful."

The album was actually written and recorded back in 1994 after Miles Copeland (manager of Sting and founder of I.R.S. Records) invited Cher to attend the semiannual songwriters workshop he hosts at a castle he owns in France.

"I'd been writing poetry for years and years, but never thought of it to be used as music," she says. "But I'd just written a poem about Kurt Cobain and took it with me and a couple of other things."

There she met Bruce Roberts, whose writing credits include the 1979 Barbra Streisand-Donna Summer No. 1 duet, "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," and Pat MacDonald, formerly of Timbuk 3 which had a big late-'80s hit with "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades." With their collaborations, she wrote 10 songs in five days.

In New York after the workshop, she enlisted members of David Letterman's "Late Show" band and recorded an album in a week, doing her 10 songs plus two others, including "Classified 1-A," a song by ex-husband Sonny Bono from the early '70s protesting the Vietnam War.

It was the growth of the Internet that finally prompted her to release the album, allowing her to make it available to anyone who might be curious without the economic burden and marketplace pressures of a conventional release. Plans are being finalized to have the album sold online only, via ArtistDirect.com.

"I don't have any expectations," she says. "I did it for myself, so I'm just sharing it with people who might be interested and don't really care what reviewers think. And if people like it, they like it, and if they don't, that's fine. It's so personal. But I've played it for people and they liked it. Maybe it hits other people's notes."

RAGE AROUND THE MACHINE: Representatives of Rage Against the Machine found themselves having to deny rumors that the band's concerts Sept. 13 and 14 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium would prove to be the politically charged L.A. quartet's last. Even DJs at KROQ-FM (106.7) reported that the band was breaking up, but Epic Records spokeswoman Lisa Markowitz strongly refuted that claim.

Fueling the rumors were several recent turns of events. Bassist Tim Commerford's stage-climbing antics at the MTV Video Music Awards were reported to have stirred dissension in the ranks of the band. And then on the day of the first Olympic concert, the band suddenly parted ways with managers Gary Gersh and John Silva after only several months working with them. This is the third managerial team dismissed by Rage in three years.

That came on the heels of the postponement and later the cancellation of the scheduled stadium and arena tour co-headlining with the Beastie Boys (also managed by Gersh and Silva). Beastie Mike D. was injured in a biking accident, but with him healed, the tour was expected to take place in October. It now has been called off altogether.

Backstage at the Olympic, both Commerford and guitarist Tom Morello denied that the MTV incident caused any rifts in the band, and said that the management decision was amicable--an opinion echoed by Silva and Gersh. The musicians also acknowledged that with a political agenda being as strong as a musical one and with four strong-willed members not always in agreement about goals and plans, Rage can be a hard band to manage. And there's also the matter of the solo album that singer Zack de la Rocha is working on--which has been taken as a sign of problems in the group.

But Commerford and Morello also spoke clearly of a future together as a band, with plans for an album combining live tracks and new studio versions of a wide range of outside material, all recorded by producer Rick Rubin--marking a potential starting point for some new directions.

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