Lauper Shakes Her Bad Vibes

Singer sets return with ‘A Night to Remember’

A NOT-SO-FUNNY THING Happened to Cyndi Lauper on the way to completing her new album, A Night to Remember: She made a movie. It was called Vibes, and it was a real clinker. Perhaps most damaging to Lauper’s career as a singer, though, was the single she recorded for the film. After the two hit-packed albums, She’s So Unusual and True Colors, the song she recorded for Vibes, “There’s a Hole in My Heart (That Goes All the Way to China),” proved the first unequivocal flop of Lauper’s solo career.

“The movie had some repercussions,” Lauper says by way of explaining the two-and-a-half-year lapse between True Colors and A Night to Remember. Originally slated for release last fall, the album was pushed back while the singer reworked it, adding several new songs and remixing its original tracks. “The album did change in a lot of ways,” she says. Then, considering her desire to still make films, she adds, “That’s the last time I’ll take a part because of the part, hoping that the script will get better. It never does.”

Lauper was also deeply affected by a trip she made last fall to the Soviet Union as part of a contingent of American songwriters that included Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, her collaborators on the song “True Colors.” Far from home, the singer underwent a reaffirmation as an artist.

“You become in the profession of ‘being famous,’ as opposed to what you started doing in the first place, which is the music, the writing and the creation part of it,” she says. “I had lost touch with that because of all the business obligations. I didn’t feel like an artist anymore. So I went back to my roots. I’m not Russian, but I was thinking of the farthest place on the earth I could go. And I just stopped all the other things that I could’ve done, and I did that and went back to the writing part and the craft and got to mix with other writers.

“Russia is a strange place, because they want so much to create, and they really remember what it’s all about. We forget the writing and how great is is just to do what you love to do. Over there, it’s so hard to do what you love to do. For instance, videos are outlawed. These guys are dying to make videos. And there are a lot of underground bands that are really, really fantastic. The lyrics are prolitic, and they’re not like greeting-card songs, you know, which of course strikes a chord in me.”

Lauper is referrring to “True Colors,” which, after climbing to the top of the charts, was licensed by Kodak for film commercials. (She doesn’t own the song, penned by Kelly and Steinberg) The commercials “got to me.” She says. “But that wasn’t me. When I sang True Colors, it was strictly something about the inside of people. It had nothing to do with ‘Will you buy this product?’ And there’s a strange twist because we are on a business where you buy the product. I do something that I want to be universal and really strike a common chord that’s in all of us, then usually some big company comes along and says, “Hey, we wanna buy that.” So I always have a problem with that.”

The writing credits for A Night to Remember read like a who’s who of hit makers: Kelly and Steinberg co-wrote six of the album’s eleven songs either on their own or with Lauper and Christina Amphlett of the DiVinyls; Desmond Child (who was coauthored hits for Aerosmith and Bon Jovi); Franke Previte (who co-wrote tow of the hits from Dirty Dancing) and Diane Warren (whose latest hits is Elton John and Aretha Franklin’s “Through the Storm”) also contributed tunes. Backing musicians include Eric Clapton, bassists Bootsy Collins and T Bone Wolk, singer Larry Blackmon and zydeco accordionist Rocking Dopsie.

“It’s not enough to be yourself again,” says Lauper. “For me, anyway. If it’s just about growth and development, that’s not hard to do, ’cause you really have to grow and develop. I’m hellbent. I got this vision in my head, and I just have to get it out; I have to create it. So I’ll go out on a limb a little bit and do something a little more dangerous, because the result could be great.”

Cyndi Lauper Tries to Buy Success: No Sale

Can it really be┬ánearly six years since Cyndi Lauper erupted with her debut album, “She’s So Unusual”? That album presented an artist with unlimited promise. She was a virtuosic singer with a vivid, irrepressible personality. A songwriter of no small merit (she co-authored the soon-to-be-standard “Time After Time”), Lauper was also a shrewd judge of which songs by others would fit her beguiling style. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and Cyndi did.

The follow-up, “True Colors,” was a more sober work, yet Lauper was still able to put an eccentric spin on such oldies as “Iko Iko” and “What’s Going On.” The title song, by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, was a metaphor for relationships that Lauper could identify with, and she sang it passionately.

There’s no such passion on “A Night to Remember,” Lauper’s third and most disappointing album. It seems to be a work of premature panic. Lauper’s acting debut last year in the movie “Vibes” with Jeff Goldblum was a fiasco, but Lauper should have been able to slough it off the way Madonna simply ignored cinematic bummers like “Shanghai Surprise.” Lauper’s single “There’s a Hole in My Heart (All the Way To China)” was also a flop, and therein lies the biggest mistake of her career: taking that setback personally.

Instead of forging ahead and reasserting herself with confidence and vision, Lauper has attempted to buy success on “A Night to Remember.” Many artists, including Heart and Pat Benatar as well as the Lauper of “True Colors,” have gone to Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly for sugarcoated, format-adaptable pop-rock hits. But their self-consciously commercial songs should be kept behind a pane of glass with the warning: “Break only in case of emergency.”

Lauper must have felt the house was burning down, because there are six Steinberg-Kelly songs here. One of them, “Like A Cat,” (written with Christina Amphlett of the Divynyls), amusingly suits Lauper’s quirky personality. The rest range from formulaic to banal. “I Drove All Night” would be a perfectly pleasant Sheena Easton tune; Lauper sings it with so little urgency that you get the feeling she saw the lyrics for the first time when the session began.

She doesn’t fare much better on “My First Night Without You,” on which she shares writing credit with Steinberg and Kelly. Lauper relies too heavily on her flawless technique in an attempt to compensate for the fact that she doesn’t believe a word she’s singing. “Unconditional Love” is one of Steinberg and Kelly’s better formula songs – it certainly has an agreeable enough hook – but the lyrics ring false. “When I see you I surrender . . . ” she sings, but that’s exactly wrong: Unconditional love shouldn’t require surrender.

“Heading West” has promise, but Lauper again sounds alienated from the lyrics – you doubt that she’s experienced the emotions about which she’s singing. “Primitive” is a “Billie Jean” knockoff that’s anything but primitive: It’s too elaborately conceived to be of interest.

To satisfy this desperate, and really unnecessary, craving for a hit, Lauper collaborates with other big-name writers. “Insecurious” (I’ll say!), by Lauper, Desmond Child and Diane Warren, is as cute as the wordplay in the title. But Warren’s “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend” is boring schlock that Lauper sings with so little enthusiasm you wonder what she was threatened with. “Dancing With a Stranger,” one of two collaborations that include Frankie Previte (he wrote some “Dirty Dancing” hits) is an awkward mix of inappropriate styles: late 1970s disco with half-hearted heavy metal.

The feisty, flamboyant Cyndi Lauper we used to know is all but inaudible in these contrived settings. Before the songs start and after they’re over, we hear a few faint snatches of Lauper singing what sounds like an Appalachian folk tune which she’s titled “Kindred Spirit.” What the voice seems to be saying is: `Help! I’m being held prisoner in someone else’s vision of what my career should be!” The message of “A Night To Remember” is: Free Cyndi Lauper.