Thursday 9 January 2014

Bonnie TYLER: Faster Than The Speed Of Night

(#279: 16 April 1983, 1 week)

Track listing: Have You Ever Seen The Rain/Faster Than The Speed Of Night/Getting So Excited/Total Eclipse Of The Heart/It’s A Jungle Out There/Goin’ Through The Motions/Tears/Take Me Back/Straight From The Heart

Some albums are kept for one track only. I don’t suppose Pablo Honey will ever escape the critical ball and chain of being regarded as “Creep” plus supporting acts, which is rather unfair as the album is more substantial than that, and also represents the typical first steps of a young band, steadily working through or working out their influences and deciding what they want to do as musicians.

But the case of Bonnie Tyler is a much more problematic one. Faster Than The Speed Of Night became only the second album by a solo female performer to enter the album chart at number one (after Never For Ever) and judging by the performance of both 1981’s Goodbye To The Island (#38 in Norway) and 1986’s Secret Dreams And Forbidden Fire (#24 in the UK) this really was a one-off, and I suspect that practically all of its success was down to the inclusion of the full 7:07 version of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.” The single had been the comeback to start all comebacks; when her RCA contract expired in 1981, she changed management, and after watching Meat Loaf on The Old Grey Whistle Test (promoting the Dead Ringer album) was sufficiently impressed to seek out Jim Steinman in New York and ask him to produce her.

Prior to “Total Eclipse,” her last British Top 40 hit had been the theme song from the 1979 film of the Jackie Collins romp The World Is Full Of Married Men, which starred imported Americans Tony Franciosa and Carroll Baker and otherwise involved the likes of Gareth Hunt and Paul Nicholas. But she was dissatisfied and, having already been described by everybody as a female Rod Stewart, was plainly not going to settle for Seaside Special status.

So “Total Eclipse,” and by extension the rest of the album, represented the Bonnie Tyler that she wanted the world to see, that had perhaps been kept down for too long (such that the song itself may be interpreted as a statement of independence or rebirth, with Steinman being “the only boy who wanted me the way that I am”), and the response was enormous.

Why the huge success, even given the love of the British for troupers and damn-you comebacks? Perhaps the real question should be: why is “Total Eclipse” there in the centre of this otherwise agreeable, but no more than agreeable, early eighties AoR album, like the monolith in 2001?  I have already written about the song at length elsewhere and do not propose to do so again here, but again must wonder at how such a masterpiece – one of the half-dozen or so truly great number one singles – could have arisen (and also remember the sleigh bells in the instrumental break, and the Brian Wilson inspiration behind them).

It transpired that, although Steinman produced (and “directed”) the whole album, he only composed two of its songs, “Total Eclipse” and the title track. The latter, which did little business as a single, is recognisably cut from Meat Loaf cloth, from Tyler’s vocal on down, but is one of the most enjoyable expressions of the urge to screw this side of “Let’s Get It On.” As with “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights” she is excited and impatient, and acts her role brilliantly; the song construction is brisk and to the point, even though it exceeds six-and-a-half minutes, with superb onomatopoeic contributions from Max Weinberg’s drums and Rick Derringer’s rhythmically squealing guitar (so this can stand as a sequel to “Hang On Sloopy”). One could posit that the frustration which cuts like a knife through “Total Eclipse” is the need for such excitement to return again.

Otherwise I suspect that the album’s success reflects a newness, at least for British audiences – America already had Pat Benatar – insofar as, although this was a largely by-the-book AoR album, they had not really heard this music being performed by a woman before. And Tyler certainly sounds liberated throughout the album’s forty-three minutes or so; her work on all nine songs is faultless – hear how she turns the humdrum “Take Me Back” into an explosion of pregnant grief (“GOD I want you back again!”) such that it becomes a more defiant bookend to “The Winner Takes It All.” On “Tears,” paired with the song’s author, an uncredited Frankie Miller, on vocals, both singers sound fittingly tired and frustrated, as well as fully knowledgeable of the fact that their love has long since left the building; whereas, on the curiously underproduced-sounding “Getting So Excited,” she can’t work up any true excitement or interest, and her concluding “But I’m getting bored, I’m just getting bored” sounds like confirmation of a known fact; the song’s only interesting factor is a vocal cameo from Steinman himself (credited with “seductive female dialogue”) in which he exclaims: “I’d do anything for love, but I won’t do that!” He would remember that line a decade later.

Elsewhere there is a certain absence of focus. Tyler does a great job on Fogerty’s anti-Vietnam song “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” – again, not a success as a single – with her gusty screams of “YEAH!” especially hurtful-sounding, but the musical arrangement puts one in mind of Ferris Bueller preparing to have a day off. “It’s A Jungle Out There” is workaday post-Blondie pop-reggae which is at least two minutes too long, mainly to allow guitarist Hiram Bullock to show off. “Goin’ Through The Motions” originally appeared on Blue Oyster Cult’s Spectres album and was co-written by Ian Hunter, and works quite well here, though structurally carries the clear shadow of Mott the Hoople, particularly in its verses. Tyler’s ennui with one-night stands is well articulated, even though Steinman curiously bookends the song with a children’s choir chanting proto-Full Metal Jacket style. The record closes with a fine if conventional reading of “Straight From The Heart,” a song co-written (and recorded by its co-author at around the same time) by a misspelt Bryan Adams, who nevertheless makes his TPL debut here (he may or may not be responsible for the approving “WHOOH!” which immediately precedes Derringer’s guitar solo).

So Faster Than The Speed Of Night, despite its unfortunately-designed cover (Soothing Sounds For Swansea?) in which the singer appears to have been poleaxed by a ray of light, stands as a useful route map of trends in early eighties mainstream transatlantic rock. It’s just that the record is bisected by something greater, something which sounds like Steinman and Tyler had waited all their lives to write, perform and record it, a point where pop quite unexpectedly exceeded itself (who would have put odds on a major Bonnie Tyler comeback even in the autumn of 1982?). There is a term for such occurrences; it is called “punctum.”

Next: You didn’t die. Pop lies curled up in your corner. But you can’t pick it up. You can’t get up.