In a recording career that’s spanned nearly three decades, Cyndi Lauper has never been afraid of collaboration, nor of pushing her creative limits. This fearlessness has lead to plenty of groundbreaking genre-bending and, well, tons of not-so-successful pairings (a 2005 remake of “All Through the Night” with reggae star Shaggy was downright painful).
On paper, Bring Ya to the Brink (like 1997’s Sisters of Avalon, a heavily synthesized dance album meant for the clubs) should be a raging success. Lauper recruited a who’s-who of hip electro artists as co-writers and producers—including cut-and-paste pioneers Basement Jaxx, producer Richard Morel, Swedish synth-heads Kleerup and pop maestro Max Martin—and their influence saturates Brink’s ultra-processed tracks and throbbing beats.
The contrast between watery keyboards and geometric club beats on the wistful “Echo” works beautifully, while the seductive “Into the Nightlife” is just as its name implies: a slow-building explosion of cheesy dance-floor synths that’s begging for extended remixes. But Brink’s slick electronica (think gay disco and upscale hair salon) largely exposes the weakness in Lauper’s unorthodox vocals. She’s not a giant-voiced diva, and she normally crafts music that enhances her quirks. Yet tracks like the chattering “Rocking Chair” (the Basement Jaxx cut) and “High and Mighty” make her voice feel thin, raspy and forced. The hip-hop-tinged “Lyfe” and hi-NRG “Give It Up” also fall flat.
Brink turns a corner 11 songs in, not coincidentally when Lauper tones down the martini-bar slickness in favor of traditional pop songs. “Grab a Hold” (a co-write with the U.K. femme-pop band Dragonette) pulsates with an insistent beat, but the deceptively cheery delivery (“If you want to grab a hold/Let it go”) finds Lauper revisiting bittersweet moments. Better still is the ballad “Rain on Me,” on which new-wave subtleties and tasteful production underscore Brink’s most vulnerable—and moving—vocal delivery. Lauper’s best songs have always been those that allow her to display emotional depth and nuance, and more of this would certainly have made the album that much more enduring.
The bottom line: **1/2