Throughout her career, Cyndi Lauper has been a little bit of everything: a Grammy/Emmy/Tony award-winner, a songwriter for studio and stage (Kinky Boots), a pop star for the mall rats, a kitsch beacon of Goonies fandom, even a blues performer. And having cracked the mark of sixty-something celebrity, owing no one a damned thing, Lauper has opted to kick down the doors of country road tunes, even though said genre is not what one would call a terribly exclusive clubhouse. Her new record of country covers, Detour, can be described in much the same way as Lauper and her entire discography — which is to say, devotees will truly enjoy these songs for what they intend to be, and strangers will ask how the teeny-bopping queen became a truck stop crooner.
We are long over the hump of ’80s cheeseball throwback, as current trends indicate an upswing in ’90s nostalgia supplanting years of its technicolor predecessor. A fleeting glimpse into today’s musical landscape reveals musicians who essentially make next-gen Pure Moods CDs with Windows 95 sound effects and a Looper app. Lauper, meanwhile, fights to stave off a Bizkit comeback just a moment longer with southern twang, a dash of Bakersfield, and her mom’s old Patsy Cline 33’s (“Misty Blue”, “Detour”, “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart”).
The beauty of Lauper is her immortal charm. If you’re with her, you’re enchanted and a bit sarcastic, like the fairy from Scrooged; if you’re against her, you probably missed the joke on “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and enjoyed it all the same. Lauper will never be hateable, despite the mixed quality of her catalog, because no matter her age, she’s forever the cutest, with a colorful coat and a voice that was at one time unique to maybe her and Bernadette Peters.
Despite a distinct uncertainty in this album’s ultimate fate, Lauper as a vocalist remains original, and does blues and country relative justice. Once none too dissimilar to “Material Girl”-era Madonna, Lauper matured while also retaining a hint of sparkle. A Lauper country LP is a record whose only real sonic peer is Rick Moranis’ Agoraphobic Cowboy. Clearly inspired by some heartfelt connection, Lauper drives heart in Detour, whether it will find an audience or not.
Will this album hold up as historically as her early work or her Tony-caliber material? Perhaps, though likely not. It’s novelty incarnate (“You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” “Heartaches by the Number”) and sentimentally hypnotic at best (“Hard Candy Christmas ,” “I Fall to Pieces”), and a little confusing and nondescript at worst (“Funnel of Love,” “Walkin’ After Midnight”). Detour is the diner waitress who never gave up on her neon rainbow apron, and though she may no longer be in her heyday, collaborations here with the likes of Allison Krauss and Vince Gill is proof positive of dreams coming true.
None of the songs on Detour are without at least some merit, though a few are without any discernible marketplace value, save niche kiosks along I-40 or the occasional road tripper’s Spotify. If anything, it can be said that there’s really very little else in the world like it, and it does far more good for classic country music than many modern “country” acts ever could.
Essential Tracks: “Hard Candy Christmas”, “I Fall to Pieces”