NEW YORK – (Feb. 21) -As the April 1 release of ”Sisters Of Avalon” draws near, Epic Records continues to strive to illuminate Cyndi Lauper as an artist of greater creative substance than the often-cartoonist figure who became a leader of the MTV generation in 1983 with the kitschy ”Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”
Produced by the singer with Jan Pulsford and Mark Saunders, the album plays to Lauper’s considerable strengths as a vocalist and her marked maturity as a songwriter, with broad stylistic leanings that range from textured hip-hop and dance to guitar-driven alterna-pop. Despite its seemingly disparate musical elements, ”Sisters Of Avalon” is a cohesive and remarkably powerful collection that is notable for the absence of the novelty ditties that have long been associated with the singer.
But is the world ready for the ”serious” Cyndi Lauper ? ”There are certainly some preconceived notions that we have to overcome,” says David Massey, senior vice president of Epic (U.S.). ”There have always been two sides of Cyndi. There’s always been a musically adventurous side, as well as the zany personality that became dominant in the ’80s. We believe that with perseverance and the right exposure, we can gradually knock down any barriers ahead.”
”She’s one of those unique artists who has loyal followers that literally clamor for every bit of music or memorabilia they can get their hands on,” says Marlon Creaton, manager of Record Kitchen in San Francisco. ”I agree that there are some people who will initially write this album off without listening. But it’s a good-enough record to change a lot of those minds. If the label stays committed to the record for longer than a couple of months, I think they will.”
Ironically, Lauper doesn’t view ”Sisters Of Avalon” as such a dramatic departure. ”To me, this album is a natural progression from the songs on ‘Hat Full Of Stars,’ ” she says, referring to her 1993 album, which showed her dabbling in more textured, experimental rhythms and weightier lyrics.
If there is a difference between ”Sisters” and the albums from her ’80s heyday, Lauper says, it’s in the way these tunes were assembled.
”While I was on tour for ‘Hat Full Of Stars,’ I found myself fortunate to be working with musicians I felt I could record with,” she says. ”Remember, I started out as a singer/songwriter in a band called Blue Angel. Those are my roots. It’s always been strange to go into the studio with one set of people, and then go on the road with an entirely different group of people. I was longing to have a more cohesive experience.”
It was during the worldwide tours supporting ”Hat Full Of Stars” and the 1995 greatest-hits collection ”12 Deadly Cyns And Then Some” that some of the songs for ”Sisters Of Avalon” started to take shape. ”I cannot begin to explain what a fabulous experience it was for all of us to be jammed into my hotel room every night, spontaneously putting our ideas together,” she says. ”It was exciting because everyone comes from such different backgrounds and perspectives.”
Among the band members with whom she most closely connected was Pulsford, a keyboardist who first tweaked Lauper’s interest with a tape of a world beat/funk groove that would eventually evolve into the song ”Searching.” ”It was while I started putting words to that piece of music that I started to understand that we were on a special journey that felt so right,” the singer says. ”Jan and I are extremely compatible collaborators, because she is so well-studied and I approach music in a real primal manner. We complement each other perfectly.”
Once the tours ended, Lauper and Pulsford recruited Saunders and began seeking an ideal setting in which to assemble the various ideas accumulated on the road. Their search led them to a mansion in Connecticut that they renovated into a studio.
”It was ideal in that we were able to make it as technically proficient as we needed it to be, but it also provided a warm and homey space that fed our souls,” Lauper says. ”It was so beautiful to be working on a vocal and smell lilacs.”
With the experience of recording ”Sisters Of Avalon” a pleasant memory, Lauper says, she is itchy to get out on the road again. ”I’ve never been more proud of a group of songs,” she says. ”It will be interesting to see the shape they take onstage. I can’t wait to find out.”