969 - Tina Turner 'Private Dancer' (1984)

My Rating: 1.50 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die:
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 2/3

Favourite Tracks: Private Dancer, Let's Stay Together
Least-Favourite Tracks: Steel Claw, Help!

You know how some albums (usually the classic ones) transcend their own eras, never sounding outdated or unfashionable? Well, this isn't one of those. It's utterly rooted in the 1980s & rather like leg warmers or Mr T, it really isn't ageing all that well. The All-Time Top 1000 stats suggest I'm not the only one thinking that; in the 1994 list this record was voted at #25, by 1998 it had slipped to #242 & for the latest (2000) edition its rank had plummeted down to #969. And after listening to it several times I can understand why.

First of all, it really is very much of its time. Tracks like I Might Have Been Queen or Steel Claw sound like something lifted straight off the soundtrack of 80s movies like Footloose, Flashdance or Fame - you know, schmaltzy US rock with big, bland major-chord choruses. It's also a masterclass in mid-80s production values & while I've always been fond of electronic music, I think that the heavy-handed 80s way of shoe-horning drum machines, synth bass & keyboard brass stabs into MOR mainstream rock created some real horrors (does anyone really like the 'power' synth riffs on Europe's The Final Countdown or Berlin's Take My Breath Away ?)

Then there's the substance, or rather the lack of it - virtually half the tracks here are cover versions & that makes it sound like those dreadful debut albums we get these days from any old X-Factor contestant. I mean, her cover of Help! sounds like something that was knocked up by the guys who normally record backing tracks for kid's karaoke machines.

The original compositions don't fare much better either. Is anyone really moved by hackneyed lyrics like 'Prisoner of your love / Entangled in your web / Hot whispers in the night / I'm captured by your spell' ??! (from Better Be Good To Me). And once you know that What's Love Got To Do With It was originally written for Cliff Richard (by the same guy who wrote him Devil Woman) that sickeningly twee synth solo suddenly makes sense. It doesn't help that there are so many different songwriters & producers - the record sounds like a mish-mash of wildly different ideas & styles.

It's a shame as there are also fleeting glimpses of what a good album it could have been. It goes without saying that Turner's voice is a fantastic instrument & her uncharacteristically laidback approach on Mark Knopfler's Private Dancer remains a highlight of the album. And while most of the Heaven 17 collaborations would have worked better on their own records, their inventive reworking of Let's Stay Together still stands out. Of course, with over 20 million copies sold & 4 Grammy awards, I doubt that anyone involved with the album is too worried about its longterm credibility, or indeed the fact that some middle-aged nobody in England thinks it's a little bit crap. Ultimately, the fact that such an insubstantial offering achieved such enormous success perhaps says more about 80s consumerism & mass marketing than anything else.


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