By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
BONNIE TYLER – SECRET DREAMS AND FORBIDDEN FIRE (1986)
The sixth solo album from Bonnie Tyler was the follow up release to her platinum selling Faster Than The Speed Of Night release that featured her mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. Like many, this is pretty much the main connection I ever had with Tyler’s music. Yes, there’s one other song of hers that I remember, but essentially it was all about “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. As with the Faster album, this release was produced by Jim Steinman (best known for his work with Meatloaf). Unfortunately for both Tyler and Steinman, this album wasn’t the commercial hit they probably hoped for. Instead, it actually became the last Tyler album to make any kind of dent in the US and the reviews were apparently mixed at best.
After listening to the album, I can kind of see why it turned out this way. There’s an undeniable sense of time and place given the production of the music. At first, I was kind of annoyed by just how dated the music sounded. I liked some stuff, but it was like Steinman and company couldn’t resist the urge to toss in flourishes that failed to enhance the songs at all.
It’s kind of a sad thing too. I know that there was a certain way the pop/rock music of the 1980’s was “supposed” to sound but I think if at least some of the songs on this album hadn’t been buried underneath all the studio wizardry, opinions might’ve been different.
The makeup of the album depended on the format you chose to listen to. The vinyl release had just eight songs, the CD had one bonus track. But with the cassette version of the album, there were two bonus tracks to go along with the original eight tracks.
The album did have a big hit in “Holding Out For A Hero” but technically that came two years before the release of the album. The song was used for the soundtrack to the movie Footloose, which is where it became a hit. It’s the only other song I really ever remember hearing from Tyler. It closes out the second half of the album and remains a song that I find hard to resist the urge to hum along to it.
But what about the rest of the songs? Well, it is a bit hit and miss but I think there are a number of songs that might be better than people thought back then. The first side of the album opens with “Ravishing” which has a catchy musical sound but the decision to make Tyler’s endearingly husky vocals sound as if they were recorded inside of an echo chamber kind of killed the momentum.
I will say that the song “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man)” fared better than I thought it would. Decidedly uptempo, it had a nice pop sensibility to it. So did “No Way To Treat A Lady”.
As for “Loving You’s A Dirty Job But Somebody’s Gotta Do It”, it’s an intriguing mix. The track is a duet with Todd Rundgren and at first the song was overly sappy. You’d need to check your blood sugar levels for the beginning of the song. But I was kind of surprised that the song began to grow on me as it progressed. The performances left sappy behind and grew more intense. It developed somewhat of an edge to it and ended up being far more enjoyable than I would’ve ever given it credit for considering how it started off.
The first of the two bonus tracks on the cassette was the song “Before This Night Is Through”. It closes out the first side and is a ballad thought a bit faster in the performance than is standard. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can really say about it as it wasn’t much more than a trifle.
The second side of the album opens with a cover of the hit song “Band of Gold”. That song was first recorded by Freda Payne but unlike the original version, Tyler’s version didn’t become a hit single. The song moves pretty quickly but other than having familiarity with the song, I didn’t really think much of this version. I could say the same about the song “Lovers Again”. The ballad is backed with a slight musical score but is just flat.
The song “Under Suspicion” is the second of the two bonus tracks and the slightly hushed performance gives the song an air of mystery to it musically. I really got into the song as a whole. As for the song “Rebel Without A Clue”, the most straight up rocker on the album, things started off great. I found myself immersed in the song. But the song is over eight minutes long and features a long instrumental outro that makes the track feel as if it is meandering along trying to find an end to itself. If they’d cut at least a couple of minutes from the song’s running time, I’d be talking more positively about it for sure.
I can’t say that critics back in the mid-80’s were completely wrong to dump all over Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire for the inability to resist the more pompous aspects of the decade’s pop music indulgences. However, there are certain tracks that are way better than they were ever given credit for. For me, that makes the album an interesting one to take a look back on. I get to discover more about an artist that I never really paid much attention to and realize that there was more to her than just her one big hit.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Of the ten songs on the album, Bonnie Tyler had just a sole co-writing credit on the song “Under Suspicion”. Meanwhile, Jim Steinman wrote or co-wrote four songs. Noted 80’s pop writer Desmond Child wrote “Lovers Again” and “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man)”. Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance wrote “No Way To Treat A Lady”.
Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg from The E Street Band were some of the featured players who recorded the music for the album.