With a voice like brass polished with amaretto and skin cream, Cher has dwelt in the popular imagination for six decades. She began as a distaff folkie, offering husband-songwriter-producer Sonny Bono reassuring sentiments in “I Got You Babe” and a series of sixties hits. Her timbre and TV appearances didn’t project much warmth, though, which gave their material its healthy tensions.
But her career took off in the seventies as a parent’s idea of post-sixties rebellion: an Eve Arden recast as a star, adept with a zinger when her double takes didn’t register. What Robert Christgau called the Swarthy Trilogy –“Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves,” “Half-Breed,” and “Dark Lady” — are triumphs of schlock, variety show histrionics, and nicotine-stained curtains, aka the Seventies in excelsior. They put the “wrought” in “overwrought.” Marriages and dalliances with Gregg Allmann and Gene Simmons cemented the impression that Hollywood Squares was her proto-OKCupid, but like any star she did what she could through disco (“Take Me Home”) and New Wave.
Abruptly, she decided she was going to be an actress; it’s a tribute to her determination that she became one with Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and especially Silkwood, in the latter especially hitting notes of tenderness as Meryl Streep’s best friend and thwarted lover. Earning an Oscar nomination prepared her for a decade of triumphs: Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, an Oscar for Best Actress as the big-haired Italian suitor to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. Refreshed, she returned to schlock music, spearheaded by Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Diane Warren for a series of increasingly blank Poppy Bush Interzone-era hits. I loathed “If I Could Turn Back Time” then, and time keeps wounding these heels. An incoherent song about Jesse James and a Michael Bolton belter at least recalled the kitsch meister of “Dark Lady.”
And she kept going — Cher required public exposure like poinsettias do crisp winter air. Anyone who’d been a music fan understood the expressive possibilities of
the vocoderAuto-Tune, but it took Cher to marry its use to queer dance pop. Thus was born “Believe,” an autumnal score so complete that it wiped out the last twenty years; I couldn’t quite believe her again as an actress because the survivor had eclipsed the craftsman without the former selling the latter short.
To assume Cher is done is to believe there’s no life after love.
If I Could Turn Back Time
Just Like Jesse James
Train of Thought
After All (with Peter Cetera)
The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)
One by One
We All Sleep Alone
You Better Sit Down Kids
I Found Someone
Love and Understanding
The Music’s No Good Without You
Good to Great
Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)
Take Me Home
Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves