Monday, 30 December 2013
Lulu "Independence" (1993) (Album Review)
"Don't be surprised by the way I am, the way I think and act, there's too many rules, I really can't choose, I can't let these chains hold me back" "So what you're saying doesn't matter to me, I'm making my plans all alone" "Broken dreams and promises giving you the runaround, they tie you up they tie you down, your life is built on shaky ground" "You're getting tired of standing still, ambitions that you must fill, I know it's hard but I'll be here to help you reach, you've gotr the will, you've got every reason for being here" "No sense in dragging on past our needs, let's not keep hanging on, if the fire's out we should both be gone, some people are made for each other, some people can love another for life, what about us?" "Give me one good reason why you say goodnight and mean goodbye"
Lulu "Independence" (1993)
Independence/There Has Got To Be A Way/Restless Moods/I'm Back For More/Let Me Wake Up In Your Arms//How 'Bout Us?/Until I Get Over You/You Left Me Lonely/Rhythm Of Romance/I'm Walking Away/A Place To Fall
I can't tell you how much it warms the heart to see one of my beloved AAA artists doing really well after a spell away from the charts for far too many years. Shockingly it had been eleven years since the last time Lulu released an album of all-new material - and it will be eleven years before she releases another one (2004's 'Back On Track') - so the very fact that 'Independence' exists was enough cause for celebration at the time. Lulu may have looked and sounded as if she's never been away, but after a series of flop albums in the 1980s (as hard a decade for Lulu as most of our other AAA bands, strange after an actually pretty good 1970s the few times Lulu was 'allowed' to make records) the only recordings she made in the seven years between 1986 and 1993 were covers of 'My Boy Lollipop' and, err, 'Nellie The Elephant', which will give you some idea of how most record companies saw her back then, literally as another 'Millie' who never grew up. No record label had wanted to touch the singer, with even her big champion of the 1970s David Bowie deemed as past it by the 1990s (his revitalisation won't happen will the 21st century). Despite a pretty good 1970s
The only reason this album exists is because of the gamble Tina Turner took recording Lulu's greatest song in twenty-five years 'I Don't Want To Fight No More' - amazingly Lulu's debut as a songwriter (in collaboration with her talented brother Billy) at the age of 42. Turner didn't really know who Lulu was ('To Sir With Love' is the only real hit Lulu had ever had in America) and chose the song on merit, which was both a boost to Lulu's confidence and encouraged her to shop around for a 'full' album. Even with this 'hit', several record labels turned Lulu down - including several 'old friends' who simply refused to see her, which all but broke Lulu's heart according to her autobiography (also entitled 'I Don't Wanna Fight'). The only reason 'Independence' exists is because EMI subsidiary 'Dome' was looking for a 'maturer' artist who were easier to handle than the young things passing through the label's hands and the release of the song 'Independence' as a single was Lulu's most successful release in 17 years (it even made #1 on the dance charts, which might not sound that impressive now but this chart more than rock and pop was fiercely fought over back in the pre-Oasis days of the 1990s).
Between them 'I Don't Want To Fight No More' and 'Independence' set the tone for an album full of songs about breaking free, growing up and living alone (although frankly this would have been a better album had Lulu recorded the former song - sadly her version is quite a rarity now). Lulu had a bigger hand in choosing the songs for this album than she'd had since her Atco years in the early 70s (Mickie Most and David Bowie were such strong figures Lulu didn't really get much input) and they all reflect her state of mind at the time. Her much-publicised marriage to hairdresser John Freida had recently collapsed and - for the first time since she was 16 - Lulu was single and fighting for custody of her child Jordan (as 'Dome' were an English company, Lulu had been forced to leave her son with her dad in an American school - she describes this in her autobiography as being a cruel reminder of her own pop star beginnings, when as a 15 year old she's had to move to London and leave her mother in Glasgow for the sake of her career). Just as hard was the split between Lulu and her manager of twenty years Marion Massey, who'd effectively become Lulu's surrogate mother when she left home for London aged 15 and who'd stuck by her thick and thin (Lulu probably was right to leave though, however painful: Massey wanted to keep Lulu 15 years old and she'd have never made this album under her wing). Losing the three most important people in her life at once (obviously counting Jordan, who mainly stayed with his dad) must have been hell and clearly had a huge impact on this album. Despite having written 'I Don't Want To Fight No More', all of these songs come out fighting in one way or another, either reflecting on mistakes in the past or refusing to make the same mistakes in the future, songs that are lyrically deeper than most Lulu albums and almost all of which seem to 'belong' together in comparison to the 'collage of styles' approach of many Lulu albums. In many ways, it's 'Lulu's most 'independent' album, made at a time when people expected the least from her and let her get on with things, so it must have been glorious to see this album do so well in the charts (Lulu's most successful since 1967 in fact).
However, there are two frustrating things about this record that prevent it from being the masterpiece it might have been. Despite her new-found talents as a songwriter as erudite, open and honest as all the great names Lulu once envied, she only gets one co-credit on the whole of the album. Brother Billy, who'd stuck by her through thick and thin, doesn't even get that which seems ludicrous to me - surely the songwriting team had just proven themselves beyond all doubt with one of the biggest hits of the decade? Even if there were no readymade 'hits' at hand, surely the pair should at least have been encouraged to have a go at writing album tracks together? Thankfully follow-up album 'Back On Track' (2004) does the sensible thing and have the pair work together for half the album, although frustratingly again the pair's best song of the period ('Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance') only appears on the album as a 'bonus' track in an inferior remix. And that's the other frustrating thing about this album: despite its success (the album just missed the top ten, but a peak of #11 was still extremely good for a small budget label and an artist who'd last scored a hit 17 years earlier) there will be no follow-up to this album for eleven years, by which time any interest in Lulu had long since died. It shouldn't have been like that: so much of Lulu's career seems to be one of missed opportunities and bad career decisions and the lack of a true follow-up to 'Independence' is one of the most frustrating of all.
After all, in 1993 (and indeed now) Lulu still has the looks, the talent, the character and most importantly the voice. She should be revered as the UK's greatest female singer (seeing as the Americans got lucky with the birthplace of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick) and this album should have been the start of the most successful period of her life.
Like many an album released in 1993 'Independence' is also a tad, well, 'noisy'. Just as the 1960s didn't really stylistically start till 1963 (and 'Please Please Me'), so the 1990s only really got going and found its own identity in 1994 (before you laugh the 2010s haven't got going yet in 2013, sounding just like the decade before). As a result 'Independence' sounds like all those other AAA productions from the 1980s/early 1990s we keep moaning about for tinny digital drum effects, keyboards that sound more dated than anything from the 1960s does to modern ears and a general sense that the band are playing in separate cities, never mind studios. Lulu is by far the most soulful thing on the record and it's a shame that the rather anonymous backing doesn't help her more on an album that's actually quite emotional and heartfelt. That said, for all the sterile recording and occasional songwriting anonymity Lulu herself is on terrific form across this record. There's no reason she made such a splash with the title track: every other person of Lulu's age (42) was still trying to sound young and 17 again (close competitor Cilla Black being a case in point), but Lulu is deeper and punchier than in the past. The last time we wrote about Lulu on this site was for 1968's 'Lulu's Album' when we praised half the album for having this sort of punch but also passed on our frustrations at how twee and girly the rest of the album often was. That isn't a problem here. Lulu is at her vocal best across this album, making the most of lesser material.
Apart from the title track there were two real talking points critics and fans made about this album. The first is the successful duet with Bobby Womack 'Back For More', which was successful enough to spawn a whole album of duets ('Together'), although in common with the speed of most decisions of Lulu's career it didn't come out for another nine years. Womack is best known to us AAA fans as the writer of Rolling Stones hit 'It's All Over Now' as well as several hits for himself in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Bobby may have had a completely different upbringing to Lulu (although there is a case to be made that his home-city of 'Cleveland' is the American equivalent of 'Glasgow') but the pair's careers were very similar. A child star who saw his life turned upside down when his first song became a hit in his teens, Bobby worked closely with his brother before watching his hits slowly dwindle and becoming 'stuck in the past' according to most record labels (a drug habit in the 1980s didn't help, about the only thing he didn't have in common with Lulu). By 1993 both were hungrier than ever to be in the music business and were in a similar position of needing a 'hit' to help them bounce back with. Lulu had always been a big admirer and their collaboration seems to have been a natural fit according to most reports, successful enough for Lulu to have tried the scheme again with another 11 singer-songwriters on 'Together' (of which only old friend Paul McCartney, appearing on a 'rap' version of 'Let 'Em In' of all things, is the only partnership as successful as this one). 'I'm Back For More' is, like all the album, depressingly poorly mixed, with an emphasis on what sounds like a chestful of percussion thrown on the floor for every second beat in the bar, but the interaction between Bobby and Lulu is priceless. A smaller hit than 'Independence' but still more successful than anything the pair had achieved solo throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, it's one of Lulu's proudest achievements that she helped kick-start Womack's career again. Admittedly, like Lulu, this kick-start seems to have been much delayed (Womack won't release a full album after this until 2012's popular 'Bravest Man In The Universe'), but the decision to put these two similar stars together is a good one.
Similarly, Lulu was brave enough to approach her ex-husband Maurice Gibb and her ex-brothers-in-law Barry and Robin for help when it came to choosing the songs. Despite what the papers have always tried to say, Lulu and Maurice were always on friendly terms after they parted in 1973 and Maurice wrote songs for her right up until 1976 (and then only stopped because Lulu moved to America to be with John Frieda and David Bowie, for family and career reasons respectively). The Bee Gees hadn't been having a great period either in the late 1980s/early 1990s, their comeback hit 'You Win Again' in 1987 - like Lulu's 'Independence' - not really leading to a consistent run of releases for some time. 'Let Me Wake Up In Your Arms', which seems to be primarily a Barry Gibb effort despite the three-way writing credit (its interesting that he's the only Bee Gee pictured with Lulu on the back cover), isn't classic Bee Gees and doesn't bear comparison with anything on the Gibb brothers' next album 'Size Isn't Everything' (1994), arguably their best album since 'First' in 1967 however well their 'disco' albums might have done. What's interesting, though, is that this song is clearly addressing an 'old flame', pleading with an unknown 'them' to forget the years that have passed them by and the mistakes made. Admittedly this is not unusual a theme for songwriters - and The Bee Gees had sung about regrets and lost love more than most - but the brothers must have been aware that they were writing this song for one of their ex-es and how it would look. Maurice remained married to his second wife Yvonne (who he'd wed in 1975, the same year Lulu married John Freida), but their relationship had hit it's own problems as recently as 1991 when, in an alcoholic stupor, Maurice pulled a gun on his family (she rushed to Bary Gibb's house for moral support and Maurice bravely quit drinking after a long stay in rehab that was all over by 1993 when Lulu came calling). Long dismissed by critics and even the pair themselves as a 'mistake', the marriage between Maurice and Lulu may indeed have occurred when the pair were 'too young' (he was 20, she was 18), but underestimate it at your peril: the pair shared a close bond right up until Maurice's sad early death in 2003 and it too often gets 'overlooked' when people discuss either star. Lulu would only have been human if she spent this period wondering 'if only' after splitting up with John Freida, wondering if her life might have been better with Maurice after all (who had even turned his back on alcohol for good by 1993, one of the main reasons that had broken up their marriage in the first place).
With two big names 'back on board' for the album, in many ways it's a surprise that 'Independence' wasn't bigger. But then, this is an album about old friends getting back together who haven't had a single hit in five years between them, trying to give the music charts one last roll of the dice. Nobody expected the album to be a hit and at the time both Bobby Womack and the Bee Gees were old names too. So good on record label 'Dome' for allowing Lulu to go back to working with people she felt comfortable with, instead of coupling her with a hip-and-happening wannabe youngster who dictated how the album went from the start. That said, there are way too many names you won't recognise in the writing and production credits for this album for my liking, which seems to use a new producer for every song. That's never a good sign of a 'healthy' album and it may be that, expecting this album to be a flop, 'Independence' was recorded piecemeal with Lulu being passed around studios to anyone who had an interest in working with her rather than any great 'feel' for the direction of the album. What's puzzling, though, is that even with all these names involved it somehow all sounds the same (even the Bee Gees production).
'Independence', then, gets much right: Lulu finally gives up trying to hold on to her cute-15-year-old image and makes great use of her soulful, gorgeous voice that has more passion in one note than a whole chart full of boybands can manage. Working with two old friends is a great move, helping their careers as well as her own, and the simple fact that Lulu had the guts to stand up and make another album when nobody wanted to know should be applauded. She's rightly proud of the album and the success it was, despite having very little interest or support from anyone and it rightly launched her 'comeback' alongside singing Take That off the stage the following year with 'Relight My Fire' (where Lulu proves to have a stronger voice than all five members singing at once!) and her own artistic triumph with 'Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance' later in the decade . For the sheer courage needed in taking hold of her career and giving herself another chance, instead of simply fading away like everyone expected to, 'Independence' is a success and a triumph of the highest order. Not all of the album lives up to the title track, however, and by her own admission Lulu was 'lost' during the making of this record at times, when technology had moved on so fast and progressively that she didn't have a clue what all her various producers were doing to her voice and backing tracks. Too much of this record plays 'safe', trying to make Lulu sound like every other hungry teenage wannabe out there, instead of working to her strengths and the fact that Lulu had just had two huge hits about growing older and being maturer. A whole album of songs like 'I Don't Wanna Fight' 'Independence' and 'Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance' or simply an album full of songs penned with brother Billy would have transformed her career for good, instead of allowing 'Independence'; to simply be the latest upward swing in a rollercoaster of a career. At times 'Independence' is a tough album to listen to, with an awful contemporary surface sheen and a good half album of songs that are actually no better than the songs Lulu was given to work with in her troubled 1980s career. But at times - on the title track and the two 'collaborations' especially - this album shines with such a golden glow you can't help but applaud. And above even the worst songs on the album sit that wonderful voice, undimmed by the years. She 's still a real 'Lulu' on this album, even if she isn't a real 'Lulu of a kid' anymore.
'Independence' might not sound that startling now for fans who've got used to seeing Lulu as older and maturer and the fact that she's tried for the past 20 years to stay as contemporary as she can (to mixed success), but boy was it a shock when this song came out. Despite the fact that the 1980s and 1990s saw even more women releasing records than in the 1960s and 70s (particularly in Britain), most of them were bright new young things - you just didn't see anyone in their 40s making records (even Grace Slick retired in 1986 claiming 'it's outrageous for a middle-aged women to get up on a stage singing rock and roll). The only competitors were Cher and Cilla (who both weren't quite back on the scene just yet) and Tina Turner (who, as we've seen, scored her biggest hit of the decade with one of Lulu's songs). 'Independence' might sound production-wise as if its ticking every contemporary trendy box on the list, but lyrically it's an astute and brave choice, doing for older women what 'Respect' did for younger women in general (and Aretha Franklin in particular) in 1966. Interestingly, like 'Respect' (an Otis Redding song originally) 'Independence' was written by two men. Leon Ware wrote the song along with Winston Sela after working for years as a producer, most famously with Michael Jackson on the days Quincy Jones didn't bother to turn up. Like 'Respect' there's nothing gender-specific about either lyric yet somehow it makes more sense as an anthem for suppressed women rather than as a general cry for freedom. Lulu, having gone through a painful divorce splashed across all the papers - she was married to one of the three hairdressers even non-fashion icons like me have heard of and no it wasn't Vidal Sassoon as so many reports get wrong - clearly has an affinity with this song and sings the hell out of it, sounding deeper and older than she does across the rest of the album. Lulu must have particularly relishes this song's lines about how 'I've never known what it's like on my own' after being alone for the first real time in her life. The song's best feature is its ability to cover all bases at once: those who simply dream of escape or are enjoying it get to sing along to that thrilling chorus and feel good ('I want my independence! I want my freedom!') However those who, like Lulu, had second thoughts about breaking up and were torn in two got lyrics that sound genuinely reluctant and puzzled in the verses ('Don't be confused, please understand, I couldn't respect your wishes more!') This is a song that demands freedom in one breath and then begs, pleads and negotiates for it in the next: one of the very best expressions of 'Independence' made, certainly in the 1990s. Of course, this being the early 1990s in particular, the song sounds flat and tinny now, Lulu surrounded by so many ghastly contemporary features that threaten to out-do her. Of course, this is just what she needed to do at the time and she probably wouldn't have got anything released in 1993 without trying to sound contemporary, but in retrospect it's deeply wrong to hear such a soulful song performed by such a soulful singer to such an anonymous and empty backing, the one thing that prevents 'Independence' from ranking alongside Lulu's very best. It's still very good, however and clearly an important song for Lulu - and not just in sales terms either.
'There Has Got To Be A Way' by Sami McKinney, Kenney Moore and Allee Willis (the last of whom will go on to write one of the world's most irritating theme tunes to one of the world's most irritating TV shows, 'Friends') kind of pulls in the same direction, though not as cleverly. The song has a couple on the brink of splitting up both wanting to get back together but so trapped in their own unhappiness they can't see a way forward, wondering what the best thing to do is. Having re-read Lulu's book 'I Don't Wanna Fight', it's interesting how close the words to this song are to what she says to both her husbands, Maurice Gibb and John Frieda. In her experience (and we only have Lulu's word for it so far - sadly Maurice never did get to write what would have been a fascinating autobiography) Lulu was the one doing all the negotiating while her husbands didn't even want to admit there was a problem. However, this song is about both halves trying to find common ground, so this song may have been wish fulfilment more than anything (one of her most quoted examples from her book is sending Maurice to a marriage guidance counsellor with whom he was diplomatic and sorrowful, before coming home to tell his wife 'he said I was magnificent and the marriage is great - but he thinks you're a crank!') Alas this interesting scenario doesn't have any memorable hook and the melody is completely forgotten once you've finished playing the track. The backing singers are also at their most obtrusive here, sounding awfully anonymous and soul-less, especially when compared to Lulu's soaring lead.
'Restless Moods' is miles better, as a song at least if not production. Co-written by soul singer Ruby Turner, this is more the sort of material Lulu should have been given in her youth (she was always and r and b fan - as demonstrated by 'Shout!' , popular in her shows even before she got snapped up by Decca). However the older, deeper Lulu is probably more suited to a song that doesn't work like ordinary songs: it's the closest Lulu ever came to a dance record, this one, with a hypnotic groove and no real separation between verses and choruses, with long held vocal lines meaning that you can't tell when one phrase stops and another begins. This time around it's the narrator whose faithful, putting up with her husband's changing moods before sighing in the chorus about 'broken dreams and promises giving you the run around'. The best couplet in the song comes from the narrator's breaking facade at trying to pretend everything's normal: 'When people laugh 'cause laughing's fun, you toss, you tun, you wanna run'. The album's slow burner and quiet highlight, more subtle than most songs and surpremely irritating production-wise (could the drums be any louder and more out of synch with the rest of the song?!), but a tad better than most of Lulu's material of late and a good chance for her to show off her vocal skills.
'I'm Back For More' is the second most popular song on the album after the title track, a well received duet with Bobby Womack that boosted both singer's flagging careers. As we've discussed, the pair are a natural fit: both are child stars fallen on hard times and wanting to create art through their hardship. The duet was at Lulu's suggestion, apparently (who'd long been a fan of Womack's) and they make a great team, egging each other on throughout the track. You can see from this song why Lulu figured doing a whole album of duets later would be good - but not one of her choices (even close friend Paul McCartney) are as sympathetic to Lulu as Bobby is here. Full marks to the record company for not trying to pair Lulu with somebody young and trendy which would have been a disaster - this tale of two veterans of love having played around and come to the realisation that they were better off with each other after all has to be by two 'maturer' singers. Interestingly, this isn't a Womack song (he's better known as a writer rather than a singer) but one by Motown producer and occasional singer Ken Stover (who worked a lot with Marvin Gaye). It would have been fun to hear Lulu and Maurice singing this one, with its references to 'love regenerated' and how 'it's better the second time!' Again the production does its best to sink this song, but the two singers are simply too good to let that happen.
'Let Me Wake Up In Your Arms' is the Bee Gee's specially composed song for Lulu - and again it continues the album's themes of regret and breakup. This is by far the happiest song on the album, however, with the narrator imagining they're back with an old flame in their sleep and loving the memory. It's so tempting to see this song as wish fulfilment on Maurice's part and the Gibb brothers must surely have realised how this song would like, although in that case it's odd that this song has so many of Barry's characteristic touches and that it's him who both produces this song and sings his characteristic high backing vocals on it. The song itself has far more in common with the Bee Gee's late 80s recordings ('You Win Again' especially) when they also suffered from glossy contemporary productions obscuring their heartfelt songs and it's a shame that Lulu wasn't given one of their batch of songs from slightly later in the year (the following year's 'Size Isn't Everything' finally sounds like a 1960s band reinventing themselves in the 1990s should). The opening verse, with its references to 'another lonely Monday morning where I don't want to face the world outside' are actually more interesting than the rest of the song, whole the second verse's sudden moment of realisation that 'you never co-operate or share your love with me' sound like Maurice repeating back at Lulu what she used to say to him for real. The part of the song that's remembered, though, is the typically anthem-like chorus , which in typical Bee Gees style is actually saying something quite different to the rest of the song. Curiously Lulu sounds less comfortable with this song, even though it's closer in style to the sort of brainlessly happy song Mickie Most tried to get her to sing (the song sounds slightly out of her range, perhaps it was changed so Barry would find it easier to sing? Certainly he sings very well on it). Another of the album's better songs.
However the best song on this album that 'nobody' knows (i.e. which wasn't a single or co-starring somebody famous) is side closer 'How 'Bout Us?' Writer Dana Walden was a member of the sadly forgotten 1980s band Champaign (who were named after their home city in Illinois, by the way, although combining champagne and campaigns sums them up pretty well too). 'How 'Bout Us?' has a beautiful soaring melody that's born for a singer who has as much oxygen in her lungs as Lulu that's easily the best on the album, the Gibb Brothers' contributions included. The lyrics, too, are perfect for this album with Lulu quietly summing up why she wants to be on her own again. The first verse concludes 'if the fire's out, we should both be gone' before asking over and over in the chorus the question that Lulu must have been asking herself for the past few years: 'some people can love another forever, some people can't, so how 'bout us?' She even concludes sadly 'I'm not trying to end it all', before listing a whole load of reasons why that's exactly what she's reluctantly concluded to do. There's a rather lacklustre middle eight in there somewhere ('Are we gonna make it girl? Or drift and drift and drift?'), but a middle eight is usually the sign of a songwriter who cares about his craft and it's noticable that this is about the only song on this album to give us one, which speaks volumes about the craft and care in this song. Even the production is better here than elsewhere, the backing harmonies actually sounding harmonised and with a proper guitar sound and a marvellous saxophone part which drifts dreamily across the song (yes, despite haranguing them every other review I do like sax solos played the right way and when a guitar can't play the same part better!) even the drums sound just about palatable! Overall, this is might well be the single greatest Lulu song of the 1990s that Lulu herself didn't write (not that there's an awful lot of competition that decade!), with Lulu not only singing something suitable for her older, maturer self but that sounds instantly as one with her younger self.
'Until I Get Over You' , alas, features a nosier production than ever before and Lulu has never sounded more out of place as she desperately tries to sound both modern and heartfelt in what is again an older person's song. Lulu - or more likely someone helping her with the album - has clearly had their ear to the ground for obscure 1980s acts and two of this song's three writers Climie, Fisher and Morgan are from short-lived band Climie Fisher (guess which ones!) along with a Nashville songwriter who wrote many of that band's best known songs as well as a few for Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. This song is noticeably more alien to Lulu's usual style - she's clearly trying to sound like the original rather than herself - and she struggles again with this song. The lyrics, despite being written by much younger writers, fit the album well though: the narrator tries to move forward with her life and to forget a past love, but she finds herself 'frozen in time'. The words even get a bit Ray Davies-ish, with Lulu seeing lovers everywhere she goes and haunted by times past. I'm not so sure about the 'live it' and 'forget it' rhyme and the keyboard solo - which appears to be played on a casio keyboard that even my school would have rejected for sounding too out of date and cheap - is atrocious, but otherwise this is another classier-than-normal song that gives Lulu a nice lot of emotion to play with.
'You Left Me Lonely' by songwriter Errol Henry is a little more anonymous, alas. Another slow-burning song, which doesn't so much bloom into a chorus as slowly unravel, it finds the narrator again fixating on her past and feeling that she must move on 'though it is so hard to do'. Recognising that change in people is inevitable and that couples have to hope they change in tandem with each other, this song asks to be appraised afresh without any thought given to their 'old' self ('Take a look and tell me what you see'). Unfortunately, without a proper melody or a hook to go with it, this sounds like something a drippy boy band would come up with rather than something in keeping with Lulu's reputation. The backing singers are also unbelievably intrusive on this song, the effect exaggerated by keeping Lulu's voice so far down in the mix, while the drums couldn't have been noisier if they'd been played by Keith Moon in a drumstick-breaking contest! Only a nice but again lowly-mixed Spanish guitar part and a subtle trumpet part comes close to lifting this song anywhere out of the ordinary.
'Rhythm Of Romance' isn't the Nils Lofgren song of the same unfortunately (darn it, there's another one I'll have to add to my 'AAA songs with the same name' article....I knew there was another one in hiding!) and it would have been a far better choice. Another rather pedestrian MOR ballad, I really expected this song to be better given that one of the song's two writers (Kerry Chater) came from 1960s band Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and is only three months older than Lulu, so should be writing something more for her age bracket than the 'teenagers' who are actually writing more suitable songs for her on this album. The song sounds deeply out of place on this album, too, being about infatuation and the start of a 'new' romance rather than the end of a new one. Admittedly the chorus is quite catchy and could have been a really good part for someone with a voice more suited to the song (err Gary Puckett, strangely enough), but Lulu isn't bluesy enough to smoulder the way the song demands. Not one of the album's better ideas, which makes Lulu sound like Kylie Minogue during her Jason Donovan days. Ironic, really, that a song about embracing the past should be tied to music and production that sums up everything about an era you've tried hard to convince yourself to forget!
'I'm Walking Away' is better (what isn't?), with a moody keyboard opening that adds a prog rock atmosphere to the album and at last a sense of urgency to proceedings. It's not what you'd normally expect to hear from Lulu, but she seems to have had more input into this song than any other - not least because it's her sole writing credit on the album (alongside co-writer Steve DuBerry, who wrote the music for 'I Don't Wanna Fight' too). Unfortunately the song proper isn't as good as the ear-catching opening and certainly is no match for 'Fight', even if it treads the same weary paths of wanting to leave for a better life but not being entirely sure if that's the right decision. The music sounds like a Take That B-side (and believe me, that isn't a compliment) and you can almost hear the backing-singers-on-stools-clutching-microphones as the song continues. Lulu's lyrics, while spirited, doesn't match the other songs she was writing in this period and the chorus is especially trite and annoying ('I'm walking away don't ask me to stay, I'm walking away from you') without the lyrical sweep or compacted drama of 'Fight' or 'Poor Boys'. That said, there are some interesting and clearly heartfelt lyrics in here, some observations that wouldn't have been in the songs of Lulu's younger self: 'I wanna stay as friends, give it time...we'll see' (which isn't what narrators in teenage relationships say). Still, though, considering that Lulu at least had the chance to prove herself after her first hit as a writer on this album (heck, her first song as a writer) and with so much clearly to say after this most turbulent period in her life that she couldn't find something deeper to say than 'I can't take it, you can't take it...wooooh!' I too am walking away unless the second half of this album improves!
But oh dear 'A Place To Fall' is worse still. Imagine a breathy ballad even Starship would have rejected for being too cloying and you're halfway there - quite why a singer with the breadth and range of Lulu thought she could get by with coasting on a song like this goodness only knows. It's not as if author Chuck Jones didn't have a pedigree writing for various people during the 1980s (and no, he isn't the Looney Tunes director most associated with the Road Runner cartoons), but the problem is this song - which does seem to have been written specifically for Lulu - sounds like all the others and could have been by anyone. Drippy, dippy and distinctly unhippy, the narrator of the song even starts off by referring to her lover as a 'boy' - which really sticks out as being wrong on this album about growing older. This time the drums behave - comparatively speaking - but dear God this time there's a slap bass in the way of Lulu's voice, sounding spectacularly wrong, as if it's so loud it just happens to have been picked up from a neighbouring studio by accident. There isn't even a real chorus to this song either, just an elongated verse that always seems to keep coming back to the title phrase. Easily the worst song on the album, despite the competition for much of this album's second half.
Now, the album proper ends with a brief reprise of 'Let Me Wake Up In Your Arms'. My CD copy doesn't have that track (it features a rather noisy cover of 'Take A Piece Of My Heart' instead - which isn't much of a substitute to be honest), but I do remember it from my old vinyl copy (yes, even though this record came out in 1993 - that's how up-to-date I was with modern technology back then!) It's a bit pointless, really, so I'm not surprised they missed it out on the CD. It's that Bee Gees song back again, but slightly slower and more wistfully, with an emphasis on the background rather than Lulu. It kind of works, though, in the sense that the song and the dream that inspired it now seem to be a fading memory as the narrator has to get back to the harsher side of life.
Overall, then, 'Independence' is a bit of a mixed blessing. The first side is genuinely inventive starting with the defiant title track, resurrecting the careers of Bobby Womack and the Bee Gees and ending with 'How 'Bout Us?', the best Lulu cover in years (1976 to be exact). But oh the second side - as so often happens with Lulu she grasps hold of her career in both hands, shows just what a fine and wide-ranging voice she's got and then she ruins it all by recording the kind of bland filler material any singer who can string a couple of notes together can do. Lulu can do so much more than that, as she proves so often on the first side of this album, with 'Independence' a record at its least impressive when she's at her least 'independent' and too obviously taking cues from the succession of hip young things brought in as producers (apart from Barry Gibb, anyway). However, the fact that this record exists at all, almost ten years on from Lulu's last album and after the singer was rebuffed by every record company going, is a triumph for which Lulu should be rightly proud. At its best 'Independence' is exactly the album Lulu needed to get herself 'back on track' (to quote the natural 'follow-up record', delayed till 2004), showing off how much she deserved this chance, how much she's learnt during her 'missing years' and how she's so much more than a 1960s has-been everybody assumed retired when she hit 20. Lulu is one of the UK's greatest singers and while half of the album does nothing to add to that claim, half of this album does with style. It's just unfortunate that, after claiming her independence so vocally and proving all her detractors wrong with her biggest charting album in 25 years, Lulu won't make the most of the promise of this album, ending up becoming more famous for her looks, her makeovers and her B-list TV shows than for her true genius, her voice (and her secondary, just discovered genius for writing lyrics). The sort-of follow-up to 'Independence' (the extraordinary self-penned 'Take Me Where The Poor Boys Dance', like much of the better side of this album) won't come out till 1997 by which time, whatever the single's obvious worth, it's all too late. Overall rating - 5/10