Because she’s kept herself so busy in the interim (releasing three albums that included a collection of standards, a pop album exclusive to Japan, and an anthology of acoustic reinterpretations of some of the best songs in her catalogue; acting in various television, film and theater productions; and founding the True Colors concert tour with the B-52s and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to raise awareness about discrimination issues within the GLBT community), it’s easy to miss the fact that Bring Ya to the Brink is Cyndi Lauper’s first album of original material for U.S. audiences since her underrated, trip-hop-inflected 1997 set Sisters of Avalon. What surprises most about her latest album is the way it functions both as a logical stylistic follow-up to an album that’s more than a decade old and as a solid and even forward-thinking set of contemporary dance-pop tracks.
That Lauper would record a pure dance record is years overdue, and Brink illustrates how well her inimitable voice—which is still as elastic and expressive as ever—brings a real sense of character and presence to a genre typically known for the icy detachment of its vocalists. From the club-diva wailing of “Give It Up” and the rapid-fire, syncopated speak-singing of “Rocking Chair” to the soulful “Lyfe” and understated, graceful “Rain On Me,” Lauper does anything but stay out of the way of these tracks’ production. Standout cuts “Lay Me Down” and particularly “Rain On Me,” which closes the album, serve as reminders that, beneath the neon hair dye and the mile-thick New York accent, Lauper has always been one of modern pop’s finest, most dynamic singers. Her songwriting here is sharp as well: Though there isn’t a standard on par with “Time After Time” or anything as iconic as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the sensitive “Set Your Heart” and the socio-political commentary of “Raging Storm” prove that Lauper still has plenty to say and has lost none of her skill in saying it.
While this is definitely Lauper’s show, her choices of collaborators are what make the album’s production so memorable and what ground it in current dance and pop trends. Basement Jaxx bring a relatively minimalist backing to the future-funk of “Rocking Chair,” while Dragonette put their modern spin on ‘80s new wave on the synth-driven “Grab a Hold.” The new wave through line, a fitting choice for Lauper, continues on “Lay Me Down,” co-written and produced by Kleerup; the song holds up well alongside his collaboration with Robyn, “With Every Heartbeat,” without sounding like a desperate attempt at making Lauper sound younger than she is. The three tracks by Deep Dish cohort Richard Morel, including the trance-y “Raging Storm,” draw from a diverse well of Euro-pop, bouncy new wave, and ‘90s club music and effectively tie the work of a lengthy roster of collaborators into something cohesive.
If still a bit too far from the mainstream to make for a full-fledged commercial comeback (which The Body Acoustic might have provided if not for Sony’s “rootkit” debacle), Bring Ya to the Brink recaptures Lauper’s artistic relevance and stands as a hipper alternative to Madonna’s Hard Candy.